Thinking Out Loud

March 15, 2019

I Want to Fly the Plane

Filed under: Christianity, technology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:23 am

The plane which took us to Cuba last month. WestJest was one of the airlines affected by the Boeing Max 8 grounding this week.

Last night I received an email which had been flagged by Gmail (a division of Google) as being suspicious because the person who sent it to me appeared to be sending it from an email address which he had not used before. Actually, I know this guy, and he has about four different email addresses.

I carried my phone downstairs where my wife was working and I said that frankly, I thought this was none of their business. I am intelligent enough to look at the content and decide if there’s anything malicious in it.

Earlier in the day I had shared with her a discussion I heard on talk radio suggesting that the problem in the Ethiopian Air crash as well as the one in Indonesia might possibly have been caused by systems related to the autopilot function. Their pilots lack the training of their North American equivalents, probably due to the rise in affluence in countries allowing more people to fly, resulting in the need for many more skilled personnel. For such instances the autopilot is usually a blessing…

More and more it seems that the machines are taking over, not only in terms of function, but also in terms of doing our thinking for us. The on-air reporter was suggesting that the pilots and the countries concerned, simply need to get the plane up in the air and then let the computer take over. When something goes wrong, they lack the necessary skills to know how to fix the problem correctly and so they jerk the nose of the plane back up, resulting in a stall. As far as the investigation goes, these are early days, so it’s hard to know how the accuracy of that analysis.

Needless to say this causes me concern when it comes to self driving cars.

One thing that the airline story accomplishes is that it gives me the language necessary to say what irritates me most about my computer and my phone:

I want to fly the plane.

I want to be the one in charge. I want to decide for myself. I don’t want everything to do with my email and my social media and the business use of my computer to be run for me are to be on autopilot. Your paragraph

On Monday, I sent out a newsletter using the MailChimp program. I had to override the from address because the one it has stored as default is actually incorrect and the service won’t let me change it. Each time I type the address I got a large red warning sign telling me that my address lacks an at sign and that furthermore when I get to the point where I type it in it then gets upset but I am lacking the .com portion of the address.

There’s no way of telling the machine that I have a brain, but if it just gives me another two seconds I will type a completely usable address.

I want to fly the plane.

But more importantly I want to know why in a generation that is increasingly being taught computer coding we have to let these autopilot systems do everything for us. Eventually the machines will reach a complexity where are the humans will simply not be able to do the necessary overriding when necessary.

This is what many believe happened in the recent air crashes and it’s unfortunate if that is the case.

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March 2, 2019

A Pre-Internet Example of Accelerated Social Change

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, music, technology, writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:22 am

Tomorrow, I want to look at one or two particular effects on the church that have been brought about by the internet, or perhaps one specific aspect of it. But today, as a prequel, I want to go back in time about 50 years.

We all are aware that the internet greatly accelerated social change in the countries that had access to it. The way we shop, the way we interact, the manner in which we obtain information, how we handle our financial affairs, etc.; all these have been greatly affected.

Printing PressThe standard comparison is that we are living in a time very similar to what happened when the moveable type printing press was introduced. Mass publication of printed materials was suddenly an option, and even more so when the presses were attached to steam power.

There was however, a small ripple of accelerated social change that took place in the 1960s and the medium of choice was the music of the day which we now know as rock. If you visited in a record store in the early part of the decade, the standard categories were:

  • popular
  • folk
  • classical
  • spoken word
  • country
  • marching band
  • big band / jazz
  • sacred;

but by the end of the decade, well over half the record store’s real estate was taken up with rock. “Drums and guitars;” wasn’t so much a description of the sound as a constant complaint on the lips of those who didn’t like it.

Let it BeYou can’t write about this without mentioning The Beatles. They certainly exploded quickly on the scene and were an icon of the rock music age. Their songs are forever identified with the musical style that defined the ’60s

But how much of this would have happened anyway? If you listen to the bands that were around in the pre-Beatles age, you certainly see the trajectory where music was heading. The group’s name is, after all, a play on words on the emerging “beat music” which was being played in clubs in both Europe and North America.

But in the wake of The Beatles, social change happened, and it happened fast:

1966 — Men for the first time in recent history started sporting long hair. It wasn’t necessarily the hair style of previous centuries, either. There was also a radical shift in fashion taking place introducing new colors, shapes, fabrics and combinations.

1967 — Psychedelic drugs in particular and drug use in general swept colleges and high schools. “Tune in, turn on, drop out;” was a motto that recognized the link between tuning in the music (on radio, the primary source for music awareness) and turning on (with both hard drugs and soft drugs).

1968 — Rock music became a unifying factor in the opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam. Protests spread throughout the U.S. “War! What is it good for?” (albeit from 1970, the year Wikipedia notes anti-war songs peaked in volume) is hauled out of the archives to this very day when America’s military finds itself involved overseas.

1969 — The sexual revolution. The Woodstock Festival and others like it introduced a sexual liberation such as had never been seen in the U.S and a movie documentary would take that revolution to cities and towns; and people who were unable to attend in person.

A good study of all that happened in those four y ears would be the 1968  musical Hair, summing up all the various things listed here (drugs, nudity, pacifism and of course hair itself) in a single production.

My point is that in terms of societal change, the 1960s were basically two decades for the price of one. In other words, change that might have come about over a 20-year period happened in seven years (if you track the Beatles back to 1963) instead.

beatles-cover-lifeWhy did this happen? Music!

Again, all this serves as introduction to an article coming later this week. I want to argue that the same thing has happened to the church, not because of music but because of the internet. By this I don’t mean church websites or live streaming of services, any more than The Beatles’ influence is limited to the playback conversion from vinyl to eight-track tapes. Rather, I want to make the case that a number of things happened in the same quick succession as we saw in the larger culture in the four years from 1966 to 1969.

I may not have the years so exact, but I think you’ll see that also similar to those years, the accelerated ecclesiastic change in the church brought about by the internet has come to a screeching halt.

Weigh in! If you have a comment that you would like to see form a part of the next article, feel free to email or leave it here.

January 31, 2019

Generic Responses

Filed under: Christianity, technology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am

No matter how independent, self-sufficient, or even self-employed you are, you now have a boss. In other words, you’ve probably discovered your phone telling you what to do.

I will get an email from someone and the phone will chime in and offer some quick responses:

  • Thanks.
  • Got it.
  • Will do.

May the day never come when I use this option.

It’s so incredibly impersonal, and so obviously machine-generated.

Or worse, there’s Facebook, which on our business page feels the need to inform me that I “haven’t responded” to something which clearly needs no reply, and if I don’t it will affect our “response rating.” If we know the customer well, I will tell them why I needed to make one more response and ask them not to reply to it. Social media is supposed to be helpful, not obnoxious. Instead, it makes me seem like some boorish person who has to have the last word.

Back to generic responses.

The problem is that now that we know what a machine made response looks like, on the sending end of the equation, we have to go out of our way not to do anything which might be construed as equally impersonal. On the receiving end, it makes us more cynical.

I got a response this week from someone who I’d sent a particular link to a 3-minute video clip. While I lean toward the notion that he did indeed watch it, the response could have been equally written by someone who wanted to be cordial but decided to pass.

There wasn’t the specific response I was looking for. Perhaps we’re all just starting to talk like our devices. The pattern of communication has been disrupted, sort-circuited, rewired.

I’m told we don’t always pray specifically, either. That sometimes God doesn’t answer because we haven’t really asked for anything specific. The argument continues that we wouldn’t know the answer if we got it because we really didn’t delineate what we were hoping to happen.

Additionally, if you decide to comment on this blog post, you’ll see that my comment section begins, “Value-added comments only.” I’m expecting people to want to continue the discussion. If you say, “That was good;” I probably won’t run it.

I guess I’m looking for substance.

In my own responses to emails, you’re more likely to get:

  • Thanks. It was exactly the material we were looking for.
  • I got the attachment and am hoping open it tonight when I have more time.
  • I will do this, but you may not hear back until Monday.

It’s communication. Something we do. Something that separates us from the animals.

 

 

 

 

January 24, 2019

A Friend will Tell You

Filed under: character, Christianity, technology — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:36 am

I began a sermon I did last summer with a group discussion question, “What is a true friend?” The idea was to answer with, “A true friend is someone who will …”

A small part of one of the original patent documents

One of the answers I’d prepared is, “A friend is someone who will tell you if your fly is down.” I think this would be more of a male thing, but then again, guys might not want to admit they’re looking in the direction of another guy’s zipper.

I mention all this because at some point yesterday morning my fly was down. So to speak. I discovered something rather horrendous in the “likes” section of my Twitter account. I looked at it for probably less than 2 seconds, just long enough to know where the original tweet had come from, and then removed it.

I do Twitter on my desktop computer through Firefox, not the Twitter app. This means anywhere I’ve been is in my browser history, which I only clean up at the end of the month. I identified the name of the account — it was rather distinct — and according to my computer I was never there.

But there’s always my phone. My phone is a bit of mystery at the best of times. Like a dog which has failed obedience training, it tends to wander off on its own sometimes. I don’t really accept that I was hacked as much as I think a combination of bizarre ‘recommended for you’ activity combined with me panic-pushing buttons trying to get the thing back on track. Unfortunately, there’s no history for the Twitter phone app.

I don’t know who sees “likes” on Twitter as opposed to who sees actual tweets, but I know that I see likes for a number of the accounts I follow, so I have to believe that some of my followers saw the image — or video; I didn’t have it on my screen long enough to remember — in their feeds.

But nobody said anything.

Perhaps they thought it was rather uncharacteristic of me and blamed it on some glitch.

Still, I had the power to remove it. A brief message would have sufficed. (Unless it wasn’t there that long, which I’m also wondering.)

What about you? Would you tell someone? If you came to the blog tomorrow and saw a picture which didn’t make sense in context, would you send me a note saying ‘I think you better check your last blog post’ or would you leave it to someone else?

The scriptures teach, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” A true friend will call you out on anything that’s out of character or just plain wrong. The following chapter in Proverbs has this warning: “In the end, people appreciate honest criticism far more than flattery.” (28:23 NLT, previous one is 27:6 NASB.)

…and if it happened that you saw the pic in question, I would like to know, and apologies for the visual assault.

 

January 18, 2019

Our Conservative Christian Home was the Epicenter of Corruption of Minors

Filed under: Christianity, parenting, pornography, technology — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:44 am

Although Tim Challies and I are quite far apart doctrinally, as a fellow-Canadian blogger I feel obliged to periodically checking in to sample his recent writing. He often writes about the impact of pornography, so I was interested in an article titled Has Your Child Been Looking At Bad Stuff Online?

Two paragraphs caught my attention:

…I think this is behavior we have modeled to our children in that we’ve taught our children when you have questions, you ask the internet. You ask, Google especially, and maybe as time goes on, you’re starting to ask your Amazon Echo or your Google Home or your Siri or whatever device you’ve got. You’re starting to model to children over the course of their young lives that you take your questions to the internet. That’s something we do and our kids learn the behavior.

I’ve got this funny memory of when I was in, I think it was eighth grade, a kid in my class was looking in the dictionary, looking up bad words or looking up bodily words in the dictionary. Now, why would he do that? It’s probably not something a kid would do today, but through his younger life, he had had it modeled that when you have questions you take it to a dictionary, you take it to an encyclopedia, right. And so when he wanted knowledge, that’s where he went. That knowledge was natural for a kid his age and then he went to the thing that had been modeled to him…

Our home was one that, for a brief period, my middle school friends flocked to after school. It wasn’t the old radio blasting out the rock station so much as it was because of a large, two-volume Funk and Wagnalls dictionary.

One rather precocious friend would indicate certain words for us to check out and then the books would be passed around among a bunch of curious kids. It was the equivalent of being the house that offered the kids unfettered access to adult websites today.

Kids talk loud, and eventually my parents overheard words they weren’t expecting from these Kool Aid-drinking pre-teens. One Sunday afternoon a biological lecture followed and while neither birds nor bees were mentioned, both myself and my father quickly came to realize that I didn’t know as much as we both thought I did.

Those days of innocence are long gone, but back then, if you made it past your teens and hadn’t seen anything truly X-rated, it’s possible you might never. For me that occurred much later, trying to guess the password on the restricted channels on a brother-in-laws satellite dish; and even then the images, though possibly filed away in the back of my brain, didn’t immediately spur me to seek out more of the same.

Today the kids see everything. Whether by choice or by accident, there’s very little about human biology, reproduction or sexual gratification that they haven’t seen, probably in high definition.

But back then, my two-volume dictionary was among the best anyone had.

It’s hard to believe looking back that my conservative, Christian parents’ recreation room was ground zero for the corruption of young minds; the place kids went for an informal sexual education. Within weeks, someone else’s home was the after-school destination of choice. Perhaps my parents locked up the dictionaries; I don’t remember.

I just remember the aforementioned precocious friend running around with some of his brother’s magazines into the schoolyard, and me following the crowd; all excited that we were doing something improper, but truly lacking a full understanding of what the excitement was all about.

 

July 12, 2018

This Technology is all Broken

Filed under: Christianity, technology — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:35 am

Eric Metaxas plays some rather eclectic music coming in and out of commercial breaks on his radio show. A few years ago I heard him play a short excerpt from a song called Ballad of a Teenage Queen by Dickey Lee. Last night I decided I wanted to hear it again, but all YouTube would give me was the Johnny Cash version.

30 different videos, all by Johnny Cash.

Knowing it wouldn’t work I typed in the title again, followed by NOT BY JOHNNY CASH.

Ironically, a few years ago, there was a way of doing that. It consisted of using the minus “-” sign before the thing you did not want in your church results. As in “…teenage queen -Johnny -Cash”.

Google took that functionality away on all their platforms. 

As I was writing this, I had to divert away for a minute to look something up on Christian Book Distributors website.

CBD will only let you type the first three letters of a title or author and then it tries to autofill, completely blocking all subsequent letters you try to type.  It’s fun to keep typing anyway, and watch the screen jump up and down and left to write. You’re not supposed to play this game, and I’d like to thing that some where in their head office near Boston something is sparking on their mainframe. It serves them right.

To get results, you have to manually put the cursor back in the search field and then, as if by magic, it allows you to type the title or author in a second time. 

After all that, it turned out this 2018 book was published by Crossway, which immediately ended my interest in reading it. I have my standards.

The day before, I spent five minutes driving home yelling at my 2014 Ford.

I was trying to call my wife, while driving to someone’s home to pick up a package and the car could not accept my voice commands. After five attempts, with me screaming at it, it said, “Ask me, ‘What can I say?'”

Indeed, what can I say?

The voice commands only work if you completely shut down the air conditioning system and turn off the fan. And it was a hot day and I simply didn’t want to do that. Totally. Useless. Technology.

I don’t know where the microphone is which picks up the voice commands, but it’s clearly in the wrong spot. I sort of knew this, but figured if I yelled loud enough it would work.

Not even close.

What can I say?  


It’s a very short song and it actually tells a story. Enjoy listening.

March 19, 2018

Cultural Shifts: The End of “Going Shopping”

The Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, OH is an example of a once-bustling center of activity that now sits completely abandoned. (YouTube: Chris Condon)

The impending shutdown of Toys-R-Us announced last week serves as another reminder of how the way we acquire consumer goods has shifted in the internet age. In the process however, I feel something is being lost. Here are a few benefits of loading up the family in the car or van on a shopping excursion.

Exercise – Getting some fresh air, and walking the aisles of the mall or department stores is always to be preferred to just sitting on the couch watching Netflix. I found it also interesting that large homes are now being constructed to fill their respective building lots to the point where there are no backyards. The assumption is that you’re going to do everything indoors. This can’t be healthy.

Delayed Gratification – We raised our kids to expect that a trip to certain stores might result in us leaving empty-handed; carrying neither bags nor boxes. We had little money to spend, but it cost little to look. Sometimes the seeds of desire would be planted that would result in birthday or Christmas gifts, but there was never the sense that we were going to load up shopping carts with everything in sight.

Interactive Purchasing – We could ask questions as the salesperson qualified our needs. Are the extra features used by customers? Are many of these units returned? Is this compatible with another product we already own? Do we really need the extended warranty? (Some sales people were biased on that last one.) It was a process of give-and-take conversation that resulted in a better fit with little need for returns or exchanges.

Supporting Local Business – We knew that at least some of our money stayed in our city. Even with a chain store, if it’s franchised, you’re still supporting the local franchise owner. If it’s completely corporately owned, you’re at least providing local jobs, meaning wages for your immediate neighbors.

Exposure to Wider Range of Products – To get our youngest the set of pencil crayons the teacher had requested we had to walk past the fabric softener, and the set of socket wrenches, and the dog chow, and the snow tires. For the kids, every one of these was a lesson — even if nothing was spoken — in the bigger world and how it works.

Social Contact – In the late 1960s it was accepted that the shopping mall had become the new town square. It was the place to see and be seen; to run into neighbors and friends and coworkers and fellow-students. In a large city, this included people from a more distant past who, without the benefit of computers in that era, you had completely lost contact with. This was often followed with an agreement to get together soon for more social connection. As a Christian, I found this provided contexts where I could share my faith. (See also the update below*)

The Quest – Granted this is similar to the first point, but sometimes you simply need a destination; a place to go in search of a desired object. To this extent, life is like a movie. You had the need. You drove to the mall. You found a parking spot. You located the store. They had the item in stock. You made the purchase. You couldn’t remember where you had parked! There was story; on a small quest the hero had gone on a mission and returned triumphant.

I know I’ve left some things out, but as shopping becomes something we do sitting at screens and shopping carts become virtual instead of physical I just think we’ve lost something. In the process, we’re directing the profits to nameless, faceless corporations — one in particular comes to mind — but we’re also robbing ourselves of the personal profit that comes with interacting in the wider reality.


Did I leave anything out? Anything else you feel has been lost in the switch to online shopping?

*Update: This was left as a comment by Mark from England shortly after the blog published, but I don’t want any of you to miss it:

People who live alone might not see or speak to anyone for days on end. Visiting the local shops might be the only chance they have to interact with people. Not just people they know who they might meet but a friendly word from a sales assistant, a smile even, might relieve the crippling loneliness that they feel. And hey, who knows, they might make a new friend who might visit them from time to time. Isolation is not our natural state.

Good point, Mark. Where do those people find a replacement for those interactions?

March 17, 2018

Church Directories Build Community

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came

~Theme from Cheers TV-Show

It was a heated congregational meeting that had been called nearly twenty years ago to address the implications of the rapidly growing church going to a two service format on Sunday mornings. The usual pros and cons were being kicked around when a woman at the back stood up and voiced an issue I hadn’t foreseen; “But we won’t all know each other.”

I never thought of that.

This was a church where, heretofore, everybody knew who everybody was. The kind of thing you expect in a rural church environment. Suddenly, that was about to change, and there was apprehension, if not plain fear about the implications of going to church on Sunday morning and not being in command of the first and last names of all the people in the auditorium.

# # #

Some churches have always resolved the identification issue by having a bulletin board at the back with photos of “Our Church Family.” A local church in our area raised the quality standard on this a few years back. When the professional company doing their photo directory was done, the church was presented with a couple of beautiful, framed wall prints showing everyone’s directory photo and name alphabetically. I’m sure it is often referred to, given that church’s size.

Another option is name tags. Besides the risk of the pin-type tearing clothing — many churches opt for the lanyard type — I’ve always felt it reminiscent of the “elder” name tags worn by the Mormon (LDS) missionaries who come knocking at your front door at inopportune times. But some churches thrive on this system, with visitors quickly assigned a quickly-scribbled Sharpie version which, I’m quite sure, would make seeker-friendly advocates like Bill Hybels shudder in horror; although it beats asking visitors to stand up and give their names, a practice I sincerely hope has disappeared by now.

It also raises an issue I don’t have space to get into here: The artificiality of the “turn around shake hands” type of forced fellowship. Or name tags themselves. If you click the image on the name tag at right, it will take you to a blog post on that subject.

Then there are various types of mixers including Newcomers Lunch, where established church leaders get to know recent arrivals; or the “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” events where, each quarter, people alternate between being a “host” or being a “guest” at a mystery house with mystery guests. (You can even heat things up by sending the charismatic-leaning, Arminian Smith family over for lunch with the conservative Calvinist Jones family; but who gets the Adams family with their ten children?)

Of course, the organic approach to getting to know people is small groups. You won’t know everyone, but you’ll build deep relationships and strong community with the others in your group. And possibly at that point, knowing everyone’s name won’t be so high a priority.

Which brings us to church directories.

# # #

When my oldest son was about six I showed him an entry in our church’s directory where one couple’s name was listed, but there was no address or phone number. It was easy to see why if you knew that he worked for the RCMP. (U.S. readers: Think FBI.) So I asked him, “Why do you think they don’t have an address?”

His answer was; “They’re homeless.”

I then explained the nature of his job, and the notion of privacy. There are other examples I can think of where families have chosen to opt-out completely from even having their names listed, but in most small and medium-sized churches, a church telephone directory is still considered useful, even though some online people haven’t picked up a phone handset in years; so most people participate.

Directories easily fit into the collection of things listed above (name tags, photo boards, etc.) but offer something else: A means to get in touch, or stay in touch with other people in your church throughout the week. You can call the kid’s teacher to see if he left his Bible in the classroom, ask the worship leader’s wife for the title of the book she mentioned in the lobby, and e-mail the woman who said she had a great recipe for carrot cake. You can see where people live, and the names of their children.

I am convinced that these directories — with or without photos — are in another category altogether, and sincerely believe that, where feasible, every church should have one.

Especially in an age of e-mail.

I know there will be pushback on this — some people will not want their e-mail address published — but I am convinced that we live in an electronic world where not having e-mail is like buying a house and taking down the mailbox. I believe there is potential for abuse, but it is outweighed by the contact that can take place between church family members.

As a business owner who does a monthly e-mail newsletter, I’m always tempted to steal e-mail addresses from directories, but we’ve learned over time that we’re better off initiating contact some other way before pursuing electronic communication. However, one local church meets this problem halfway by giving business owners a back page to list their name, the name of their business, the nature of their business, and business phone and e-mail information.

That same church also has a strong push for people to submit photos. They produce their own directory, and so there isn’t the hesitation associated with commercial photographers trying to sell families additional prints and print packages at inflated prices.

In an environmentally-conscious world, some churches have put their church directory online. A login is necessary so that only members and adherents can access the information, though the same login allows those listed to update their own data.

At the other end of the spectrum, in another church that we are actively involved with, the directory is simply a list of names and phone numbers. No indication of where people live or if they drive a great distance for worship. No opportunity to send an e-mail; which really grates on my wife and I, who use online communication extensively.

The other major liability of their system is that children under eighteen are not listed at all. I’m not sure I can even begin to grasp what kind of message that sends to, for example, the teens in the youth group. (“You’re not really part of our church family.”) It’s an oddity that sticks out all the more if your kids are accustomed to seeing their names in such a publication. The church in question doesn’t really have a large number of children. Coincidence?

# # #

Send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view
Indicate precisely what you mean to say…

~Lyrics from the Beatles, “When I’m 64”

# # #

In a world where privacy concerns dominate so many discussions, and insurance companies advise churches against anything with the faintest hint of liability, the idea of a church directory may seem like a throwback to a bygone era; however this writer is sold on them. I even keep a few old ones now and then as a sort of yearbook of memories of what the church family looked like in the past. Once in awhile, I discover someone in the church family who only lives a few blocks away, or someone who lives next door to someone with whom I’ve recently shared my faith journey.

I also remain absolutely convinced that creating e-mail community is absolutely essential, especially as various factors seem to add to the isolation people experience. Your church may prefer to do this through Facebook community; but do update the thing now and then, okay? Computer contact is not the same as face-time, but it’s better than nothing. And those with hesitation can always choose to opt-out of listing their online address, but I find that most choose to share their full contact information.

Also, I cannot minimize the role that both standard telephone contact and e-mail contact can play when someone in the church faces an urgent need for prayer.

# # #

If we’re a family, then family members talk to each other, right?

And church isn’t just something we do on Sunday.

# # #

This 2011 piece was included today as a part two to a more recent discussion we had on this topic yesterday.

March 16, 2018

Your Church Family Directory

One of the two churches with which I’m directly involved has a church directory which includes email addresses. The major benefit I see is that it allows people to continue the conversations started on Sundays throughout the week; to initiate contact; or to follow up with friends they haven’t seen in awhile.

The church family phone directory is probably something that will disappear over the next decade because of (a) privacy concerns, and (b) the degree to which the megachurches set the agenda of smaller churches. Nonetheless we thought we’d visit this topic.


Since my church uses a photo directory, I had a thought today that it would be fun to do one where instead of actual photographs, people submitted an avatar, as they do on social media. It would be 100% contrary to the purpose for which photo directories were created in the first place, but definitely fun and colorful.

Full disclosure: I was looking at this picture of two cats when I came up with this, and thinking it might be better than the dated picture of Mrs. W. and myself they’ve been using for the past four years.


Next, there is the issue of people who appear in these directories who have long moved on, hopefully to another church.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a megachurch pastor. We often forget that numerically, he would qualify by today’s standards. The church experienced phenomenal growth. At their size, not to mention the cost of paper, a church directory would have been impossible. But there was a membership roll and people wanted their name kept on it. He wrote,

Let us not keep names on our books when they are only names. Certain of the good old people like to keep them there, and cannot bear to have them removed; but when you do not know where individuals are, nor what they are, how can you count them? They are gone to America, or Australia, or to heaven, but as far as your roll is concerned they are with you still. Is this a right thing? It may not be possible to be absolutely accurate, but let us aim at it… *

I don’t think that everyone I’m aware of actually wants their directory listing to be kept. They’ve possibly changed churches and aren’t giving it a thought. Rather, the fault lies with the church for not noticing their absence. (Having written that, I just got in touch with someone I haven’t seen lately to see how they’re doing.)


I see we’ve covered this topic before. Four years ago, I proposed something different:

How a social media hub is different from a Church directory

I’m writing this in a vacuum, because I haven’t exactly seen done what I am proposing here. I just see a need. So here’s the proposal, and if you have any suggestions or revisions based on experience with a church that’s doing this please leave a comment.

Social media, as we have come to know it, is with us to stay. The platforms will migrate over time, but a generation has grown up communicating on line, and overall, I would say that for the church, this is a good thing. We can start a conversation at a weekend service, and continue it all week. We can learn that people have specific interests, and send them links to articles and channels of interest. It replaces the classic “encouragement notes” or “thinking-of-you cards.”

  • Ideally, a church directory lists every member and adherent. A social media index lists only people who want to share their various social media platforms.
  • A Church directory contains addresses and numbers for mobile phones and land lines.  A social media index has names and locations for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, tumblr, WordPress and YouTube pages.
  • A Church directory often exists in print; a church social media hub exists only online. It’s live, so information may be added or removed at any time.
  • Church publications generally promote the church’s own social media pages. A social media index highlights what the church family is doing online.
  • Church directories are usually only distributed to the people whose names are contained in them. A social media index can just be a page on the church website — “Central Community Church on Social Media” — with no restricted access, because each of the pages concerned are public anyway.
  • Knowing that anyone in your church can access your pages is a wonderful way of keeping yourself accountable for what you write, post or link to. Your social media pages may reflect a personal family focus and other interests and hobbies you have; but ultimately you are aware that fellow church members might drop in at any time, unannounced.
  • Social media is constantly changing. A social media index for your church family needs to be updated on a regular basis, perhaps weekly. If a given platform falls out of use, there can be a decision to delete all links to that platform.
  • If any social media platform from any church member is reported to have questionable content, all their listings would be removed.

If one of the basic problems in the church is that we don’t really know each other, I know of no other way to change that than to be interconnected online. This allows us to get to know each other to a greater degree.


We’ll look more at this topic tomorrow!

*Spurgeon quotation source, click here.

December 30, 2017

The Mind is a Battlefield

The Mind is a Battlefield. It truly is. I’m surprised there’s never been a successful Christian book with that title. Here’s a summary of some things that have appeared here at Thinking Out Loud with the blog tag “thought life.”  Each one of the titles below is a link to a larger article.

Over-Consumption of Internet Media

5 General Principles to Guide Potential Online Addiction

(this ran in March of this year; you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • Self Control
  • Mind, Thoughts and Heart
  • Shifting Values
  • The Stewardship of Our Time
  • Misdirected Worship

Media to Fill Your Home

(you need to click the title to see these spelled out)

  • Bible teaching
  • Christian books
  • Christian movies
  • Christian music
  • Hearing God’s voice

Phillips – Col. 3: 16-17 Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom. Teach and help one another along the right road with your psalms and hymns and Christian songs, singing God’s praises with joyful hearts.

What will control your thought life this week?

A Day Lived Entirely for God

Several years back, a phrase from Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps became part of popular Christian culture through the acronym WWJD?. It appeared on wristbands, bumper stickers and a host of novelties and trinkets and in the crush of popularity, a few people actually bought and read the book.

Facing everyday challenges with the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ is a great idea, but I wonder if it’s too focused on doing; in other words, I’m concerned that it only measures action.

I’ve written much here about temptation here with respect to our thought life. For myself, a person who doesn’t commit great transgressions of moral or spiritual law, a better question might be WWJT? or What Would Jesus Think? In a review of David Murray’s The Happy Christian, I noted the following chapter outline based on Phil. 4:8… 

[the link takes you to an overview of David’s media diet and ministry diet.]

The Fruit of Your Thoughts

…If your mind is saturated with unhealthy thoughts and ideas, it will manifest itself in several ways:

In your conversation: We all have heard the Biblical principle that out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even the most guarded, careful, filtered person will let something slip that betrays where their heart is wandering. Or they may lose interest in topics that would normally engage them.

Stresses: For the Christian, having made poor choices in the area of inputs and influences will result in an inner conflict that may come to the surface in being short or snappy with the people we love or people we’re close to. The inner turmoil may simply result from a feeling of personal failure.

Distractions: A mind focused on things below instead of things above will inevitably be un-ordered, resulting in forgetting to return a phone call, missing a payment deadline, forgetting the directions to an appointment. Time allocation to responsibilities may slip noticeably.

Acting Out: Experts say that people dealing with online addictions often end up taking some action as a result of the content they have been viewing, but we tend to think of that as more overt. In fact, acting out often takes places in subtle ways that are more tangential to the addiction than direct. It’s possible that only the person themselves knows that the behavior trigger.

Reticence: Other people whose mind is otherwise preoccupied will simply become withdrawn. An unhealthy mind condition will manifest itself similar to worry and anxiety. For the Christian who senses that they are moving away from The Cross instead of moving toward The Cross, they may opt to retreat from their fellowship group or simply be less animated than is typical.

What Goes into a Mind Comes Out in a Life

We are all fighting a battle within ourselves… The illustration goes like this: There is a old Indian chief telling a story about how each of us have two rival dogs, a good dog and a bad dog. Both are always fighting each other. Sometimes it seems like the good dog is winning other times it appears like the bad dog is winning.

One of the tribal members asks, “So, how do you know which one will win?”

To which the chief replies, “It depends which dog you feed.”

click image to orderRelationships and the Internet’s Dark Side

(the article contains two stories of the manifestation of over-consumption of the worst the net has to offer)

…Someone once compared the things that enter our thought life to what happens when farmers sow seeds and later reap the harvest. The little verse goes:

Sow a thought, reap an action;

Sow an action, reap a habit;

Sow a habit; reap a lifestyle.

One thing is certain, whether there’s aversion or attraction, interpersonal dynamics are changed. Someone has said, “You are what you eat.” You certainly are what you read or view on television or your computer screen…

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