Thinking Out Loud

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.

March 3, 2019

The Internet, The Church, and Accelerated Social Change

close-to-home-on-blogging1This is part two (see yesterday) of a two-part article.

In the setup in part one, we indicated that the influence of rock music in general and The Beatles in particular caused some sweeping changes, particularly in the U.S., in terms of fashion, drugs, war resistance and the sexual liberation. Some of this may have been inevitable, and there were certainly other influences at play, but the 1960s were essentially two decades worth of change sandwiched into one.

So what about another media (for lack of a better word) which influenced the Church?

The effect of the internet on Christianity or Evangelicalism varies depending on which aspect of the technology you’re discussing.

Email simply replaced snail-mail. Communications happened instantly, and at a fraction of the cost, but it’s hard to argue that this changed anything within church culture.

Church websites simply replaced the marquee at the front of the church building, allowing churches to opt instead for larger changeable letters adorned with pithy sayings. No need to post the pastor’s name or the service times, since all that was now on the website.

Video on demand or live-streaming of weekend services simply replaced buying time on local TV outlets, or for the blessed few, on a network of stations.

No, none of these things changed anything in and of themselves.

The real change happened on social media. Online bulletin boards, chat rooms, etc. made it possible for dialog to happen and made it easy for people to enter the conversation regardless of where they lived or their level of education.

But the biggest change occurred with the type of thing you’re reading now: Weblogs, or as they are better known, blogs.

While I can’t cite specific years as I did in part one of the article, here are some effects that I would say took place from about 2003 to 2009.

Blog ChildBlogs and BooksIt wasn’t Christian publishers who came up with using social media to promote new releases, rather the conversations simply started happening over the latest title or the newest author. For reasons I’ll get back to in the final point, the period was a golden age for non-fiction books and publishers were tripping over themselves to place new voices under contract.

I specify non-fiction because the publisher relationship with social media today tends to be more focused on mommy bloggers critiquing and giving away spoilers in the latest Amish or romantic or historical fiction title. Some of these make it through three books a week and publishers are quite willing to supply even relatively small blogs with freebies.

But that wasn’t always the way. The original discussions were all about doctrinal, or Christian Living titles. Maybe a devotional. Eventually, the one Christian children’s book that ever got serious blog review, The Jesus Storybook Bible.

The Growth of Calvinism – This really isn’t anything new, neither should it come as a surprise. Any advance of media technology, or any general cultural shift in communications has been seized on by the Reformed community. Just look at one of the first megachurches (Crystal Cathedral, Reformed Church in America), one of the first TV ministries (Day of Discovery, Christian Reformed), the organizations which dominate our present publishing community (Zondervan, Baker, Eerdman’s, etc., all Reformed); look at these and you see that Reformers have always been there in any available media. (My running joke: Why are there no Salvation Army bloggers? Because while everybody else is writing about it, the Salvation Army is out on the streets doing it.)

But while the internet promoted Calvinism, in some ways the form of the doctrine that was promoted was also changed by it. There exists a type of militant Calvinism today that has polarized the broad Christian community. Reformed parents couldn’t give their children the comic book The Action Bible until the publisher provided a sanctified edition with text from the English Standard Version, the Reformed community’s new Bible of choice.

blogThe Internet Celebrity – The blog Stuff Christians Like launched Jon Acuff overnight. The blog with the weird name, Without Wax, introduced the world to Nashville pastor Pete Wilson. The Naked Pastor developed a cult following, especially when some of the characters in the illustrations turned out to be actually naked. John Shore, Bill Kinnon, Tim Challies, Skye Jethani, Zach Nielson, and others like them were must reading for their constituencies. The Pyromaniacs aka Team Pyro proved that graphics matter, with their first-rate images appearing throughout their articles and attracting new followers.

But in a 2016 Happy Rant Podcast, Barnabas Piper and Ted Kluck noted that many of the Reformed blogging superstars have churches that are not as significantly large as their digital footprint might indicate. They enjoy a fame disproportionate to their church attendance. Furthermore some pastors, like Willow’s Bill Hybels, didn’t blog at all.

There’s also the few — of which this blog is one — that managed to attract a following without the author being a pastor or a published author. Voices that might not have been heard if this form of social media had not existed.

Homogenization – Despite the plethora of Christian blogs out there, there was a sense we were all reading from the same page. Re-blogging material was more common and more accepted in the early days, and the water cooler topics in church offices — especially among younger leaders — tended to mirror the topics being discussed on the blogs.

Emergent / Emerging – While the terms are now in disuse, there is much evidence that whatever the Christian blogosphere did for Calvinism, it did even more so for the various strains of the Emergent Church, including the Ancient/Future mini-movement that I feel was Emergent’s best byproduct; along with kick-starting the whole missional conversation.

I’m not sure if it was Tony Jones or not, but recently a writer from that era wrote a piece saying that Emergent was, in effect, now past its sell-by date. I have to agree, which makes it more interesting when some watchdog blog starts slamming the now non-existent movement. Which brings us to…

bloggingdogs-thumbDiscernment / Watchdog Ministries – The blogosphere in general, if nothing else, is all about being offended, so the discernment bloggers, the watchdog bloggers, those champions for truth and right doctrine (as long as it’s their truth and right doctrine) are a natural fit for social media.

The problem is that the average Christian, doing a Google search, has no idea when he or she has come upon one of these, and may not catch the watchdog’s own biases. The blogosphere, like the entire internet, has few filters.

Furthermore, there are so many targets for these writers, so many ways to instill fear, so many common enemies, that it’s easy to go on the attack and forget that those attacked are real people with real lives and real families. I think it’s harder to hate a person after you’ve shaken his hand, but I may be wrong.

Did Christian internet bullies contribute to the suicide of a pastor’s teenage son? We asked that question here a few years ago. We’ll never know the answer, but some are willing to speculate.

Connections – I met British Columbia blogger Rick Apperson somewhere in the comments section of my short lived Religion blog at USAToday. I met American pastor Clark Bunch through blogs and would consider him an online friend. Dare I say that I’ve made dozens and dozens of contacts through blogging, some of which I consider the most significant in my life, even though we’ve never met face to face.

I’ve also discovered an affinity toward people with whom I think alike and with whom I think quite differently. And I am so grateful for having spent nearly two years doing a column (albeit a news feed) for Christianity Today. I still keep in touch — mostly through Twitter — with author Drew Dyck.

Eccesiology – One of the main benefits of the early years of Christian bloggers was the rapid increase in the number of people who started planting churches. Called “the extreme sport of ministry,” church plants turned up in various shapes and sizes, with lay people who had never had a previous interest in Ecclesiology — and who had certainly never been asked — were writing and turning out blog posts and print books on the subject of doing church and creating a different kind of church (a phrase that if Googled, probably results in millions of hits.)

Growth of BloggingI listed this last, even though it could have been first, because it sums up a lot of what was taking place in a very short time: There was an explosion of ideas. Conversations were flying fast and furious about church governance, leadership models and worship styles. That the average parishioner cared so much about what was taking place drove all us into a deeper consideration of what it means to be Christ’s church.

The discussions and ideas were reflected in books and especially in a parallel explosion of conferences. People loved their church and loved the church. No idea wasn’t worth consideration. No speaker or writer wasn’t worth hearing.

It was the best of times.

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.

December 18, 2018

Worship Monopoly: A Fable

I got to know Peter and his family about ten years ago. Honestly, there wasn’t anybody in Rickford County who didn’t know them. His family was gifted musically, and they spread that gift around four churches.

His wife Marta was the organist and music director of the SBC church in the next town. Peter himself played keyboards and led worship at the Assemblies of God church. Their son Justin played guitar and led worship with his wife at the Foursquare church in town, and their daughter was the pianist at the United Methodist church.

“We control the music in four churches;” Peter frequently told me; though I bristled at the use of the word control.

But control was exactly what Peter had in mind for his little dynasty. “I eventually want us to control the worship music selection in the entire region; in the entire Tri-State area.”

“That’s about 50 churches;” I reminded him.

But Peter was undeterred. He sent out emails to the other worship leaders telling them they could “buy their weekly song selection” from his informal organization.

For whatever reason, some took the offer. Whether these worship leaders and music directors were tired of choosing for themselves I do not know. Perhaps they felt Peter’s family offered a degree of expertise beyond their own.

He emailed 52 churches and 13 (one quarter) took the offer. Combined with the four churches already under their family umbrella, they were choosing congregational sung worship songs for 17 churches, a few of which they’d never even visited.

Word started spreading beyond the area and he started getting requests from churches in other states.

“This is really big;” he told me, “We found a need and we filled it.”

I had told Peter that popular worship leader Tim Lonchris was my wife’s second cousin, so when his tour came to our state, Peter asked if I could score us free admission. I did wonder why the guy who was raking in a small worship music stipend for nearly two dozen churches couldn’t afford concert tickets, but I decided to let it go.

In fact, I did better. I got us backstage passes and a chance to meet Tim before the concert.

I started to introduce Tim to Peter, but Peter barged ahead, “My name’s Peter and I control the worship music in 27 churches across the Tri-State area.”

Tim’s brow furrowed slightly. “What do you mean control?”

“We choose the songs for the churches so they don’t have to have to choose them themselves.”

He then thrust a business card into Tim’s hand and then he told Tim how much he enjoyed his music. Then we had to find out where we’d be seated backstage, so we left the dressing room, but as Peter left I circled back.

“Sorry about that;” I said, “Peter’s little operation is probably unique, I’d say.”

“Yes it is;” Tim replied, but then he handed the business card to his road manager adding, “Remind me to follow-up with this guy; we need to look into this.”

November 1, 2018

Doing Evangelism Inside a Brothel*

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, Faith, writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:31 am

When I started blogging 10½ years ago, I vowed to keep the thing faith-focused. I prided myself on avoiding distractions such as the technology itself, or posting pictures of the latest family vacation in a pre-Facebook, my-life-is-perfect manner. With Twitter, I relaxed the standard a little, but try to avoid getting dragged into the trending topic of the day.

About a month ago, I realized the overall lack of civility and the need to vent anger for which Twitter is famous was seeping into my own writing here on WordPress. I wrote two pieces condemning two Christian leaders for whom I felt the judgment was a rather open-and-shut case, only to be met with those who were willing to support actions which went against the way of Jesus but somehow fell into the catchment area of grace toward a beloved individual, even as the facts stated otherwise. “Our football team doesn’t really have a designated quarterback, but I know we’re going to win the State Championship.” Believe what you want, I suppose.

I also wrote a piece in praise of another Christian leader only to be condemned myself for my support; this from people who have not spent the time I have examining his writing and his sermon podcasts.

At that point — having already granted myself permission when I was away in July — I allowed myself the freedom to simply skip days of writing here for only the second time since the blog’s inception 10+ years ago. I needed the time away.

For me, the whole thing had become analogous to doing evangelism in a brothel.* There’s nothing wrong with the motivation or the message or even the methodology, but the location isn’t exactly desirable. Even as I write this, and I look at the state of social media in November, 2018, I have to ask myself if this platform has the worth it had when I began. It’s become a dark place. The people who say, “I don’t do the blogs;” struck me a decade ago as people who were missing out on some stimulating information and discussion. Today they seem like the wise Magi in Matthew 2 who have opted to ‘take a different route.’

For that reason, I have freed myself (again) from the constraint of needing to publish daily. There are other ways to be an influencer, such as using the same amount of time to have coffee with a friend, or sending a series of emails to someone showing a common interest in a particular Bible teacher or teaching.

Would Jesus be on social media?

I think it would exist but he’d assign one of ‘the twelve’ to maintaining the blog and Twitter account. His life and ministry were about real world encounters with people in need; not lengthy tomes defending a certain position.

When the discussion got too heated — “then they picked up stones to kill him” — he simply retreated or disappeared for a few days.


*with apologies to those who in fact, really do evangelism in a brothel, such as xxxchurch.com who set up display booths at adult-entertainment industry trade shows, or author Greg Paul whose ministry through Sanctuary Church in downtown Toronto actually does attract sex-trade workers looking for a place for weekend worship. You have my utmost respect.

further apologies to UK readers who’ll note that ‘football’ was used here in the American sense.

October 12, 2018

Another Blogger Lost to the World of 280 Characters?

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:03 am

A milestone last night!

Visit anytime at: https://twitter.com/PaulW1lk1nson

The nice thing about Twitter is that nobody there is ever angry.

[pauses for ironic moment]

In case you now find yourself wanting to hear the song, here it is:

September 22, 2018

Handicapped Access: Mixed Feelings

Filed under: Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:14 pm

Depending on how search engines pick up today’s headline, this could be blogging suicide. How much of a Grinch do you need to be in order to deny people in wheelchairs access to things to which everybody else has access?

But the fact remains that as we as a society try to do to the outdoors what we’ve already done to the indoors, certain compromises will be required.

That’s what was in my thoughts were a few weeks when we returned to an area which has always held very strong memories known as the Waterfront Trail. We live on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Well, actually we live in a house on the north shore. Uh, technically we’re more like 2-3 miles north. So we have access to beaches and parks along the shoreline, including a section of partly wilderness-y trail. It’s been far from ignored; much work has gone into maintaining it over the years, but you do get the effect of being removed from everything urban.

So it had been awhile, and some friends had never seen it, so we went for a hike.

The changes were more shocking than anything. In order to provide a fully accessible experience, many trees had been cut, paths had been widened, and the entire route had been reconfigured at one point. To me, it had lost much of the heart of what had made it special over the years.

Yeah, I was being a jerk about the whole thing.

But here’s the key point: To our friends, who had never seen it before, it was beautiful. These are the memories that they will always have, having never seen it before…

I write all this because they’re now doing the same type of thing in a beautiful section of ravine that I’ve always held as the best place to experience a worship moment. One of my favorite places in the world. I know it’s never going to be the same, and I lament the loss of its natural look. Hopefully they don’t go as far as to put down asphalt or add artificial lighting, but I realize we do need to share the space with those who otherwise wouldn’t get to see it.

Plus, given different circumstances, that could be me in the future.

And I would probably want to see an approximation of what I remember, than never get to return again.

So the conclusion is: Ambivalence. It probably applies to much of life.

 

March 8, 2018

Who Does This?

At least once a week, after she’s packed the 7- and 8-year old off to school and the 3-year old is still sleeping, Marion goes to her computer and opens WordPress and shares something from the previous week with the entire world. That world, according to statistics, consists of 15-20 people per post; at least six of which are relatives and another half dozen are friends; all of whom get a notification on Facebook that she’s written something new. Of course, she has more Facebook friends than that, but apparently many aren’t interested enough to click through. She’s glad she doesn’t know who’s who.

The other 3-7 people daily? Could be anyone who is anywhere on the globe. She’s had some interesting comments, including recurring ones from someone who, after tracing the IP address, is somewhere in Idaho. She feels like she’s getting to know this person better than the so-called FB “friends” who can’t be bothered to tune in when she posts her thoughts.

I got thinking along these lines yesterday when I decided to see what my own writing looked like on my smartphone, given the significance of the day. “I’ve done 400 of these;” I said to myself; adding, “This isn’t normal; normal people don’t do this.” It’s true. Most people, if they have a social media platform that permits anything more than a paragraph, tend to write less frequent, less researched compositions. Yesterday, Wednesday Link List #400 took hours, several of which involved deciding how to collect and arrange screenshots of the various versions which had led up to the standardization of the WLL name…

My wife and I have discussed this before with respect to worship leading. Attending a church of hundreds, we noticed that very few aspired to standing up before the entire assembly and open their mouths and start singing. Many would be embarrassed to be up there doing anything, others would simply be frozen at the ‘what do I wear?’ stage.

But both her and I do this as second nature. Not only singing, but choosing the songs and preparing the congregation for some of them with a verbal introduction, or what is traditionally termed a Call to Worship. At least once someone suggested to me that people aren’t clamoring to replace us, which got me thinking about many different aspects of our particular area of local church service. Do we look a little strange doing this? Aren’t most people afraid of public speaking? Could we just get on with the sermon? Should I pay more attention to what I should wear?

As I’ve mentioned before, the WLL has something in common with other things I have done, such as, a long time ago, hosting a Christian radio program. For me, that was all about choosing the songs. It’s based in a desire to want to share musicians and songs with people for the first time that they will then want to have playing in their home or vehicle or workplace on a regular basis.

Or starting a Christian bookstore. Again, who does this? For most people starting a business — any type of business — is rather daunting. It’s also about connecting people and resources. I don’t always get to pursue my own agenda — there are some Christian authors in my personal library who simply wouldn’t appeal to my store customers — however, introducing people to new writers happens on a regular basis, though not to the degree I’d like. (Recommendations by their pastor or favorite televangelist remain the top influencers.)

One day we started a bookstore in just a few hours. We drove to a town we’d only been through once or twice before, met with a local pastor, viewed a location, checked out two or three other options, drove back to the first one, picked up a copy of the lease, arranged to purchase the fixtures of an adjacent store which was closing, called the utilities to arrange for power and phone service… and then we looked at the clock.

It was lunchtime. We went to the food court of a local mall and walked around and considered the possibility that the day was young, and we could drive to another city and do it all over again before suppertime. We didn’t, but it would have made for a great story.

Repeating the question, who does this? I guess we do.

Space does not us today to consider the projects and initiatives my wife has begun. I don’t think either of us are particular Type A people. We’re not up at the crack of dawn. Our house looks like a robbery just took place. We habitually procrastinate.

There is a similar temperament; at least we get each other.

Probably many other bloggers do the link/roundup thing. They’re not all like Marion, the Mommy Blogger. At the heart of putting your writing out there in a public forum is the idea of sharing, be it your own opinions, or links to others who have good ideals or analysis.

 

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.

December 26, 2017

Of a Christmas Yet to Come

Filed under: Christianity, Christmas, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

This is the third of the four stories we’re presenting over the Christmas season; two by myself and two by my wife.

by Paul Wilkinson

The Winterfest parade snaked its way down the main street and stopped near the town hall where, as had been the custom of the past few years, local performers entertained the crowds which had followed the parade’s last float.

You could still sense a little unease, particularly among the older residents at the changes which had taken place. By the start of the 2020s the so-called “silly debates” about saying “Merry Christmas” had ceased and had been replaced with genuine interest in the historical roots of the season. But now, here we were a decade later, the few remaining local churches had lost their tax exempt status and the mere verbalization of partisan religious sentiment had become a misdemeanor.

I was so relieved not to have to have this event as an assignment. The reporter for the regional news organization I work for didn’t dare use the C-word, and even when covering things in an historical sense, or clarifying the laws, I had to get special permission to include it in an article.

Especially upset were those who had held membership in local churches which had closed. I stood next to two men who I’d seen in one church the week of its final services.

“Sure ain’t what it used to be,” said the one.

“No it isn’t,” said the other.

They left it at that, speaking a forced code because city police were milling about and any sustained references could constitute an unlawful assembly. Better to save that for the living room of a private home.

It is strange though how they look the other way sometimes. It was widely rumoured that a few weeks before the 25th about 60 of the faithful attended a house meeting in a suburban neighborhood, parking their cars at the mall to avoid attention. When nearby residents confronted the situation the town said they knew about the event and that it was a “discussion of philosophical and ethical concerns” to avoid it escalating into a mass confrontation.

I remember just a few years ago when business owners were told that signs and decorations bearing “Merry Christmas!” should not only be removed, but that they should be taken to large bins where they would be pulped and recycled. “Season’s Greetings!” and “Happy Holidays!” replaced them, but in quiet whispers I often would tell friends that the word holiday actually means… well, you know. I don’t think anyone envisioned how far things would go.

As the talent portion of the program began, I chose a spot standing next to Mayor Jason Herold whose reputation is such that everyone else is afraid to be anywhere near him. We know each other personally, and generally get along.

The selections this year were especially traditional and they had invited some talented younger vocalists from other cities to participate; I wondered if perhaps they had won a contest or something like that. First, a girl from a nearby city did a jazzy version of Winter Wonderland and then a boy from a town several miles west with an incredible vocal range did Sleighride and at one point we all sang Deck The Halls.

Next, a young man stepped to the platform and completely unaccompanied began to sing,

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for his bed.

Everybody knew where he was headed with this and a few people turned around to glance at Mayor Herold at the same time as two members of the police also looked as though waiting for a cue from the Mayor.

“Let him finish it,” was all he said.

…Mary was that mother mild.
Jesus Christ, her little child.

Mayor Herold left the spot where we were standing and slipped backstage as the young man, his voice shaking, sang all five verses. As he left the stage he was escorted by the two uniformed officers into a waiting cruiser, his eyes filled with tears.

As my colleague would post to our website, “The talent portion of the Winterfest parade was marred when a guest ameteur artist performed a song which was deemed inappropriate. He was charged under the recent act banning public religious expression and released several hours later to await further trial.”

In the meantime, I decided to walk nearby where the two men I’d seen earlier were standing.

“Sure ain’t what it used to be,” said the one.

“No it isn’t,” said the other.

As I made my way to the parking lot, I heard more than one person humming the tune. It seemed that with each try to suppress Christmas it seemed they were making it stronger. As I keyed in the code to unlock my car I heard a woman singing openly,

…Mary was that mother mild.
Jesus Christ, her little child.

Seconds later, who should walk by but the two men I’d been watching all day.

“Mayor Herold seems quite upset,” said the one.

“Yes, they must have contracted out the printing of the evening program to some place where they don’t know him,” said the other; “They’ve misspelled his name without the letter “l” in all three places.”

I turned around to go back to grab a souvenir copy of that since it was a sure bet he’d find a way to get them reprinted before the event started.

“Sure ain’t what it used to be,” said the one.

“No…” said the other, “If you look back, I think it’s always been like this.”

 

 

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