Thinking Out Loud

January 29, 2016

Learn to Fly Again

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:10 am

img 012816Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the day the space shuttle exploded. It paralleled how my life was going at the end of January 1986.

Just shortly after New Year’s Day, I had left for Southern California hoping to enter into a career in the management side of what was becoming known as Contemporary Christian Music. It was also the name of the magazine most associated with the genre, and I was being interviewed by a man I greatly respected for the job of Assistant Editor of that publication. While I didn’t have the proverbial “green card,” my knowledge of the business and experience as a music journalist were certainly in my favor. Besides, I had no moving costs, so what they were budgeting there could easily be switched over to the some relatively minor costs of getting my immigration status established.

But I didn’t get the job.

Undaunted, I went for an interview with a small independent record label. The guy running it could surely use my expertise and we’d worked together before.

But then I got a call that another record company executive wanted to speak with me. Three interviews in ten days, or so I thought. It turned out he wanted to tell me why I shouldn’t give up what I was doing in Toronto on the basis of the other company’s offer.

Wait, what? What was I doing in Toronto?

I was gigging from speaking engagements to youth group presentations of something called The Searchlight Video Roadshow. Me, some sound equipment, a by-today’s-standards primitive video projection system, and a bunch of Christian music videos. Part of the reason I flew back from Los Angeles on the 25th was to do a particularly important presentation of the show at the end of the month.

We had a contact at MuchMusic, which was the Canadian equivalent of MTV, and with its Latin, mass-inspired lyrics, the song “Kyrie” by Mister Mister was getting some crossover airplay on some edgier Christian radio stations. We asked our friend if he could dub us a “clean” copy of the song, as this would be a large group that had seen the show twice before, and we needed some new tunes.

At the last minute I asked him to include another Mister Mister song.

And then the Challenger blew up, 73 seconds into the flight.

While this affected everyone differently, the explosion seemed a metaphor for my life at that point. Three interviews in So. Cal. and no job. But it wasn’t about me.

As a peripatetic youth minister, I probably could have done more the night of the show to capture what the kids were thinking that night. It was a news cycle from which there was no escape; and that one of the astronauts was a teacher only added to the event’s proximity. Some youth pastors probably played to the emotion of the moment.

But we did one thing right that night, we played the other Mister Mister song. Take your broken wings, and learn to fly again. Not a Christian song exactly, but the right song for the right moment.

I spent the next weeks and months in a bit of a slump. My body was back in Toronto doing what I had been doing before, but my heart was in the editorial offices of CCM Magazine, or the management offices of the record company…

…Later that year I learned to fly again. In June, my own little music business made the largest individual sale we’ve ever made in 30 years. The same month I got invited to be the Staff Training Week speaker at a Christian summer camp, where I met the girl who just weeks later at Thanksgiving (plus one day) I would ask to marry me. The year ended quite differently than it had begun…

If you’re reading this in the middle of your own explosion, your own brokenness, take those broken wings and learn to fly again.

2 Corinthians 4:8 NIV We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.




January 23, 2016

It’s Snowing

On New Year's Day 2009, Ippswich in Australia was expecting a high of +38C, which is about 100F. Meanwhile, back at home, my Weather Network indicator on my computer is showing that we’re heading to a low of -18C, which is about -1F. Their high temperature on a summer mid-afternoon Thursday would be occurring at the same time as my Wednesday mid-winter night. That's 101 degrees F difference. That day I was asking, "Are we even on the same planet?"

101 Degrees of Separation: On New Year’s Day 2009, Ippswich in Australia was expecting a high of +38C, which is about 100F. Meanwhile, back at home, my Weather Network indicator on my computer was showing that we were heading to a low of -18C, which is about -1F. The Aussies high temperature on a summer mid-afternoon Thursday would be occurring at the same time as my Wednesday mid-winter night. That’s 101 Fahrenheit degrees difference. That day I was asking, “Are we even on the same planet?”

A big shout-out to all of you trapped inside today by the blizzard.

Snow is something I know a little about.

I live in Canada. It snows here. But not always. And lately, not as severe as what parts of the U.S. have seen in recent years.

We drive carefully. I don’t have winter tires. I can’t afford to have one set of tires on the road let alone two. My wife’s car — my old one — has no anti-lock braking system. So we drive carefully.

When it does snow we don’t have a run on groceries, or snow shovels, or whatever it is that causes American grocery and hardware stores to be stripped bare. We already have food in the pantry. We already own shovels. Full disclosure, your average Canadian Home Depot is most likely to see a small run on rock salt in the event of an ice storm, or generators if the forecast is severe. But nothing like the inventory ransacking that takes place Stateside.

Mostly we stay home. No family event or business meeting or educational pursuit is worth getting into the type of accidents we see on the ABC or NBC evening news reports. Snow days for the kids. Closures for some retail stores and cancellation of some church meetings. But we don’t have closings or cancellations at anything close to the rate of our neighbors in Buffalo, New York.

I do remember one snowfall.

It was on January 23rd, several years ago.

It was the launch of my concert ministry organization, an outreach on the University of Toronto campus. The snow paralyzed the streets of the city and all of southern Ontario. Several youth groups had committed to attend, but hadn’t bought advance tickets. So we lost our proverbial shirts.

True, some people drove a great distance, and the concert went ahead, and it turned out the guy who drove the farthest was from… well… Buffalo.

“Concert promotion is legalized gambling;” I declared. And for the most part I stayed away from it. But I couldn’t stay away from Christian music. It was having a profound spiritual effect on me personally. And I had to share it with others.

In a little corner of the concert that night was a little concession stand we’d added at the last minute. Cans of soda. Bags of chips. And albums by some of the artists who would shape my life.

The albums grew into its own business. And expanded to include books and Bibles. Which at one point, expanded to include three retail stores.

It’s the same venture which today shapes about half of my work week. The blogs and other writing I do shape the other half.

And I owe it all to a bad snowstorm.

On January 23rd.


January 14, 2016

Spiritual Ups and Downs

Filed under: Christianity, personal, writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

Spiritual ups and downs

Several days ago I was introduced to someone who is a relatively new Christian. As she told a bit of her story, I felt led to share some things with her.

This is not a new thing, I do this all the time; but in this situation, even as I was hearing myself speak, I sensed an extra measure of authority in my words which is not always there. As an added plus, although I often allude to various scriptures, I found myself quoting passages more verbatim than I normally would.

It was a good discussion and I didn’t mind at all that it left me ten minutes late for our next appointment.

Flash forward about six hours…

I was alone in the house, and it was like I was having some type of gigantic spiritual breakdown. Overwhelmed with a variety of circumstances; frustrated, stressed out and discouraged; I found myself saying, “God, I can’t pray; I just can’t pray anymore.” (Yes, I realize the irony. By crying out to God I was praying. I was conscious of it at the time, too.)

It was just one of those moments — call it a spiritual warfare attack — where the burden of everything going on just seemed too much.

And that’s the end of the story…

…Okay, I realize this isn’t very redemptive, and it runs the opposite of most the Psalms you’ve read. If you read the Psalmist, you know that there is a lot of raw transparency there. But there is always resolution, a moment of ‘Then the Lord heard my cry’ (6:9; 18:6) or ‘Then the Lord answered me’ (34:4; 118:5).

Hey, I’m a writer. I like to tie up the end of the story with a bow. I want to end each blog post with, ‘and they lived happily ever after.’

So it looks like I’ve got the parts in the wrong order, right?

Well, no. Life is after all, a series of ups and downs, not just downs and ups. Each chapter of our lives is connected to the previous and to the next, and so our lives are more like a sine wave. (If you’re spiritually up all the time, I look forward to reading your book. Most people’s lives aren’t like that.)

And God and I were never that far away from each other. I was just at a low point. And alone at home. And probably especially vulnerable to attack after the spiritual high of my earlier conversation. And things did even out after I was through with my spiritual rant.

Can you relate?


Here’s a classic from Maranatha Music which came to mind as I wrote this:

November 8, 2015

Behind the Scenes

Filed under: blogging, personal — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:16 pm

Some of you know that much of my time weekly is taken up with the operations of a Christian bookstore, and when I say operations, I mean everything from buying, merchandise, marketing, bill-paying and cleaning the restroom. We’ve had up to three stores, currently have one, and that store has been going for 20 years now, though the business itself had a previous 20-year history on the day that store opened, some of those early years having all the financial scope of a child’s newspaper route.

On paper, the store made a very modest profit each year, and that constituted our family income. Fortunately our help and sustenance has come through other means, but that fund will be reduced to zero by the end of the year, and the operating debt of the business will hit a record high around 4:00 PM tomorrow; money that at this point, even with Christmas coming, we will not be able to fully pay back. And even the modest paper profit disappeared the last two years.

In other words, periods of denial notwithstanding, our little bookstore is not immune from the factors that have hit so many other stores, and is no longer sustainable.

The problem is, if I share this with my customer base, the assumption is that the store is immediately closing, which through the miracle of “broken telephone” communications, becomes already closed, which then becomes closed last month.

I want to put the information out there, so our total demise is not without warning, but don’t want people abandoning us in droves. My blog readership and my customer base have a very, very small overlap, so basically, I’m practicing here how to share the news there.

Plus, I think I need to see this in writing to remind myself that it’s true. Every fiber within me wants it to not be, but the measure of miracle required at this stage would be rather dramatic and unlikely.

That’s all for now on that subject…

…My oldest son asked me this week if all the blogging is tiring me out. I thought about it and last night realized that there is a cost/benefits balance here, and that if the blog network I created ever shut down, one thing I would miss greatly is the review books.

Yeah; I know. The book thing again. I like books. And CDs. And of course, Bibles. We don’t do a lot of reviews here, but publishers know that when I like something, I can get really passionate about it.

The business and the blog share one thing in common, however: Decline. Blog stats for one month this year were about half of what they had been for the year prior. Ouch! I know of very few people who are gaining blog readership, such is the reality of a fragmented social media market.

And of course engagement (i.e. comments) are severely down, which affects online community.

Much wisdom needed on both fronts, I guess.

October 20, 2015

I’ve Become the Absent-Minded Professor

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:42 am

As life gets busier and increasingly filled with distractions, I find myself ignoring some basics that everyone else might consider routine. It’s not entirely a new problem, but more and more I find myself putting on t-shirts and rugby shirts and anything else in the pullover category inside-out.

absent minded - shirt on wrongI would think inside-out is better than backwards. When I reach that stage, I guess you should lock me up. But it’s just not part of my thought process to say, “Are you sure you haven’t put that on the wrong way?” As long as I’ve shaved, brushed my teeth and am relatively certain my hair isn’t sticking up like some failed Mohawk style, I leave the house. I would spend more time looking in a mirror, but as I’ve noted here before, I’m having a bad hair life, which precluded my career as a Pentecostal minister.

So on Sunday, I ventured out to church. I found a seat in the third row. And I’m not short. And the particular shirt had not one, but three tags. All of which were sticking out. All of to which I was oblivious. After the service I hung out in the lobby socializing people until well into the second service. And then I ventured over to the church where my wife and son were.

“Do you know your shirt is on inside-out?” my wife asked.

Why would she ask that? Of course I didn’t know. Maybe it wasn’t interrogative. She tends to practice an economy of words.

I quickly ran into the little room they use to count the offering, and did a partial striptease, hoping no one would walk in. In my haste, I popped the button on the shirt, and then spent several minutes crawling on the floor looking for it.

So why don’t people tell you these things?

If a man in your church who you know (at least by name) was walking around with the zipper on his pants undone, would you tell him? In that instance, should a man be told by another man or is it okay for a woman to mention it? Isn’t it better to know and deal with it quickly rather than be oblivious?

Years ago, there was another instance in the same church where a woman walked out of the ladies restroom with a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe. Nobody told her until either my wife or myself thought she should know. Why did other people hesitate?

I can only hope the answer to that question is that they simply weren’t perceptive, just as I hope my fashion transgression went by unnoticed, or was simply written off as some new style where the name brand tag appears — as it does sometimes now — on the outside.

Or that they simply think I’m an idiot, and there’s no point in mentioning that.

If you see your brother standing in the church lobby with his shirt on backwards or inside-out or his zipper down, set down your coffee and go to him immediately, before he maketh a fool of himself. (can’t remember the exact reference, but I’m sure it’s in the Bible)

Inspired by this, our friends at Flagrant Regard (see comments section) made this meme:

zipper meme

September 14, 2014

Remembering Our Friend

Filed under: personal — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:09 am

ToshiShe blew into our community a few years ago like a breath of fresh wind. We got to know her as a worship leader in one of our area churches. There was something about Toshi that was simply different and not just her unusual name.

So yesterday, when word went out that God had taken her home after a 17-month battle with cancer, a lot of people were asking, “Why?”  No matter what answers to the why questions I might pretend to hold, I found myself joining them.

Diagnosed just days after her wedding to John, they spent their entire married life together under the cloud of her illness. Even so, she continued to be a blessing to others. 

And when a proposal went out to have a fundraising concert for her last year, it seemed relatively speaking like the whole town showed up. She brought a lot of people together. 

She was 43. Someone has said that instead of speaking of short lives and long lives, we should speak of small lives and big lives. If impact on others is the metric, then Toshi lived a big life.

It’s hard to imagine this community without her. It’s hard to imagine the world without her. She made a difference.

Things stick around online forever, so to Toshi’s two young children; if years from now you find yourself reading this and you have a need, you can always return to this community and say, “My mom was Toshi.”

I promise you we will remember.



August 14, 2014

Oh Crappy Day

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River  in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]

You may remember this tree from the review of Mark Hall’s Thrive book we did a few months ago. Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. Not compared to some things people we know are dealing with. Perspective.

But still, it was not a great day. I was going to call this short post, “I Live Next Door to the Devil.” It’s true. He was away for several months, but last night he returned home from holidays.

Today after lunch, he started yelling at me across the fence. He doesn’t like our trees overhanging his property. Actually he doesn’t like trees at all. Any trees. Over the past few years, he’s cut down all the trees on his property. A nice silver birch. A beautiful blue spruce. Several smaller ones. Even small shrubs.

He told me, “If you want to live in the country go live in the country.”

He hates nature.

The owner of a local tree service, before he passed away told me that a mature tree can add at least $1,000 per tree to your property values. But that was almost two decades ago. I’m guessing that $3,000 to $5,000 might even be realistic. They bring birds, and squirrels which bring music and entertainment.

I told him that we did, in fact thin out the foliage while he was away. But this is not the type of person you reason with.

He told me that he was going to take his chainsaw to them. I said, “Fine; cut down anything that’s over the property line.”

But then I had a change of heart. I rounded up the troops and all four of us descended on his side yard and back yard and did major surgery on the trees ourselves. We had a hedge-clipper going, two saws and were raking up everything as we went.

All this of course, looking over my shoulder the whole time. The guy is so mentally unstable I figured any minute he might decide we were trespassing.

This guy is a major case of anger management issues. We live in a constant tension of never knowing where he’s going to strike next.

We have no backyard. The side yard on our corner lot needs a bit of privacy. The trees provide that for us, something another neighbor affirmed when I spoke with him later in the afternoon.

We love trees. He hates trees. He really hates trees.

What an insane thing to argue over. 

Or perhaps he just hates us.

Pray for us.


Postscript: We had a rather strange chain-smoking neighbor when we lived in our apartment in Toronto. I recently asked God why we were forced to spend the last 25 years living next door to bad neighbors after already dealing with this in Toronto and I very distinctly heard God say, “Because anybody else would have killed them by now.” I laughed when God said that, and I think I saw Him smile.

May 31, 2014

My New Career

Filed under: personal, Uncategorized — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:21 am

Blog posting will be sparse over the next few days as I am embarking on a new career…as a shepherd.

Seriously, the question you need to ask yourself right now is, “How many sheep could a sheep-sitter sit, if a sheep-sitter could sit sheep?” (Two, actually; but there are many chickens.)  For a city boy like myself, this involves a rather steep learning curve.

More profound insights on this to follow…

December 24, 2013

My December

Filed under: Christmas, personal — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:06 am

Sometimes I’ll be told that I don’t write enough of myself into this blog, so today is an exception. It’s been a rather different December.

Years ago, I wrote a Christmas song that I always performed at least once, somewhere. For the second year in a row, the only audience the song has had was a crude version on YouTube. I’m ever facing the mid-life crisis that my worship-leading and music-performance days are over. Unfortunately, my creativity hasn’t yet died, so I am forever coming up with great church music ideas and absolutely nowhere to execute them, which is rather frustrating. If you need a keyboard player or a bass player, I might be ready to move about now.

A few weeks ago we went to a dessert fundraiser for a dog. There’s a young girl in our church who has an autism service dog, and the dog has been having health problems which has caused the family to incur costs that apparently aren’t otherwise covered. There’s something really cool though about going to a church that would hold a fundraiser for a dog. In many local congregations, that would never get past the idea stage. The dog’s name, by the way, is Jetson

The season can become a time of stress if you try to do everything. This year we opted out of party that’s become a tradition in order to squeeze in something new, a dinner party with the Bible study small group we’ve been attending. We played Telestrations, which is a cross between Pictionary and the game commonly called ‘Broken Telephone.’ Lots of fun, and far more interesting food than you’d find at a church potluck.

This year we attended a Christmas play in which none of the huge cast of actors have any speaking parts. A narrator carries the story and the actors mime their parts where their role parallels what the narrator is saying. A choir at the back of the auditorium sings part of the story as well, but the real work is done by an organist who is playing relatively non-stop for an hour. The narrated story transforms a traditional Anglican church for two nights, and is now in its 54th year.

The Christian bookstore where I work is experiencing something more akin to Passover than Christmas, inasmuch as customers have basically passed us over this year. People are either buying elsewhere, or not buying Christian resources at all. As funny as Passover in December sounds, it’s leaving us without any financial base for the lean months of January, February and March. Like so many other bookstores, we’re getting the sense that the end is near. Thank you, Amazon.

Then there’s the ice storm. I watch the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams each and every weekday, but weather incidents are always something that happens to somebody else. We tend to think we’re immune to both tornadoes and earthquakes up here in the frozen north; but we do deal with cold. Fortunately, my wife collects oil lamps and we stayed warm while the power was out for 18 hours. My eldest son described her on Facebook as a wise (not foolish) bridesmaid. Like an idiot, I had to ask him to explain the reference. We did lose one tree, though; local readers with a chainsaw should email me.

The storm also meant the cancellation of Christmas Sunday services all across our region. This is the high point in the Christian year; a service that pastors and worship leaders and choir directors and other participants look forward to for twelve months. But it’s also a key Sunday for financial giving because attendance is usually high, visitors are present, and the deadline for getting an income tax receipt is in view. Some churches can ride over a missed Sunday, but the loss of this particular week can send other churches reeling. And no, you don’t necessarily make it up the next week, and the Christmas Eve forecast is for extreme cold.

Next, there is my youngest son having to have all four wisdom teeth removed two days before Christmas. Driving him to the dental surgeon, I felt like the pet owner who tells the dog, “Hey, wanna go for a car ride?” only to be intending something that the dog wouldn’t ordinarily agree with.  From personal experience, I can say that among humans, the males of the species don’t do well with anything involving the loss of blood.

This year my other son is the lead cook at “Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day.” There are now two such events in our area, and given the aforementioned sales drop at my store, we might be helping ourselves to free community dinners more often in 2014. If you don’t have one of these in your community, you should! It’s not just the poor that need this, a lot of people simply don’t want to be alone on Christmas Day. Nor, if the capital ‘C’ church is doing its job, should they be. 

And that same eldest son is at the center of what ultimately might be the most significant thing in this report. We have neighbors who we simply haven’t talked to at all over the past several years. It goes back to a wild party, and a neighbor who called the police, and some teenagers who assumed we had called the police. Without warning, my son bought them a gift card for pizza with a note saying it was something Jesus would want him to do. ‘Wait!” I thought internally, “You’re wrecking the paradigm.” Well last night the woman of the house next door appeared at the door with a pie and a very friendly hello. Peace on earth. Good will to men.

So it’s been a different December. Did I mention we went to a fundraiser for a dog? That never happens.

August 31, 2013


Filed under: personal — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:59 am


I’ve been having a recurring problem in men’s restrooms.

(How’s that for an opening line?)

I walk over to the sink and I wave my hands under the motion-activated faucet; the scary place where electronics and water converge. But nothing happens. The sink doesn’t respond. Eventually, I try the one to the left or the right.

After finally washing my hands, I move over to the motion-activated paper towel dispenser. I wave my hands underneath in various patterns which mimic a variety of signals given by football referees. Nothing. This time there is no alternate location. Sometimes I eventually find the motion which yields the necessary paper to dry my hands. But sometimes I simply give up.

Each time this happens, a voice goes off in my head repeating the same script; “You’re not really here.”

Indeed, since I don’t believe in invisibility, the only possible explanation is that I am not present. Perhaps I don’t exist at all.

In a world where people seek significance above anything else, there’s nothing like thinking that perhaps you don’t exist; that you’re not here.

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