Thinking Out Loud

August 14, 2017

Of Bees, and Larks, and Doors

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Humor, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:08 am

For authors and readers alike, the use of satire in Christian writing can be a touchy subject. As someone who grew up with Christian humor books consisting of about 100 pages of single panel comics, I found them to be helpful on a number of levels.

First, I learned there were other people who thought like me. Second, they broke through the tension of thorny issues. Third, they pointed out the various foibles of Evangelicalism.

Today, Christian satire has moved beyond single-panel or even 4-panel cartoons. Baptist Press is one of the greatest distributors (or hoarders) of those, but their rather mean-spirited copyright statement prevents us from including a sample at this point. Elsewhere, Adam Ford’s Adam4d.com is a good example of the comic format.

Rather, today we have the sophistication of longer form pieces which mimic news satire site The Onion. The Wittenburg Door somewhat owned this form for many years, first in print and later online. Growing up, a Christian musician and leader who greatly influenced me said, “That magazine is my conscience.”

With the internet came Lark News, which still has an online lot caster if you’re facing a tough decision.

Mission recruiters may be disappointed if everyone gets the same outcome as I did

Since 2012, Roman Catholics have had the artificial news site Eye of the Tiber. Lutheran’s have Lutheran Satire as well as its popular YouTube channel. Baptists have Landover Baptist. Megachurch members have the videos of John Crist. The homeschool crowd has the insanity of Matthew Pierce.

Then we have the most recent arrival, The Babylon Bee, which turned out to also be the brainchild of Adam Ford, though it uses multiple authors.

Some of the things you might stumble into online are written by outsiders. Often these people have an axe to grind. The best and funniest though usually are produced by people within the particular movement. The best satirists on Baptist life are Baptists; the best person to poke fun at The Salvation Army is an Army soldier or officer. You need to know the nuances of spiritual life within any given faith tribe in order to best deal with its idiosyncrasies. You also need the sensitivity of an insider to avoid crossing the line into mockery or ridicule. But if the given tribe has no sense of humor, then sometimes it takes an outsider to step up.

While not everyone is gifted at writing what is essentially fake news, sarcasm and satire can easily creep into our emails and online writing. Twitter makes it possible to be especially pithy, as do various meme sites. One blogger, Matt Marino at The Gospel Side includes a “snark meter” for most of his posts, so you can tell toward which side of his cheek is tongue is pointing.

Readers should check the meter before reading the article

Does all this have a place in God’s Kingdom? Do Christians have the ability to laugh at themselves? Can we be funny without offending people?

It’s a tough row to hoe.

In one church I attended as a twenty-something, there were two twenty-something women who felt they needed to address my penchant for humor, both in a general sense and also in terms of being able to point out the various elephants in our ecclesiastical room. Their admonitions were based on an application of Ephesians 5:4 which speaks of “foolish talk or coarse joking.” The type of silly talk or crude jesting in view has to be seen in the context of the verses before and after, which are dealing with sexual immorality and impurity. I think we all know what it’s like to be in a room where that’s going on, and there is clearly a difference.

They also would bring in I Peter 5:8 about being “sober minded,” though again, contextually this is speaking of an undistracted spiritual alertness; it’s not saying, ‘Never tell jokes; never point out the humor of anything.’  I think they just wanted to impose a rather Puritanical standard on their Christianity, and mine, and everyone else’s.

At the end of the day, each of our local churches and each of our denominations have some unique characteristics which are simply funny. Lacking the ability to see the rather odd distinctives we possess is to take a high-minded, scriptural view of our group’s perfection. No group has the right to claim that. We see as though through greasy glasses [ref], we know in part, we prophesy in part [ref], we stumble in various ways [ref]. We’re fallible.

The Bible contains humor (think of the kids calling Elisha ‘Baldy’) and certainly also irony (Haman’s demise on the gallows built for Mordecai) and also hyperbole (Paul suggests a group of legalists simply castrate themselves) but not specifically satire. So we give ourselves permission that a story can be humorous, but if something written parallels life in the modern church, certain people stand up and declare that unacceptable. They don’t allow us to find humor in speaking in tongues (which is a rather unusual gift) by Pentecostals or the wearing of bonnets (the Bible does speak about head coverings) by Amish women; or any of the distinctives of Baptists, Catholics or anyone else.

That’s unfortunate. Laughter is a gift from God. Where would the modern church be without the practical observations of Phil Callaway, the church drama of Adrian Plass, the resilience of the late Barbara Johnson, etc. The dry wit of Plass is an especially good example of what we’re discussing here with both the Plymouth Brethren and Charismatics in his sights. And after several decades, how can we can forget Garrison Keillor’s hilarious weekly look at life among the Lutherans.

Like my musician friend taught me all those years ago, satire can address something in our church culture which is ripe for reconsideration.

 

 

 

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February 25, 2017

ThInKiNg OuT LoUd TuRnS 9

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, personal, writing — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:52 am

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 It’s our 9th Birthday…which means we’re now in our tenth year!

Who would have thought I’d be doing this 9 years later? I thought this year, instead of taking the time to reminisce and blow my own horn, we’d look at you guys, readers. If you’ve been with us since the beginning, thank you for your support. If this is your first day, welcome.

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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.

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Second, you readers have inspired me to read some really great books. There are times I got on the bandwagon of trending authors and now wish I’d focused on different types of material — more from IVP perhaps — but I appreciated tracking with the titles that have frequently topped bestseller charts.

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Third, the off-the-blog fellowship that has resulted from this project is something I greatly treasure. True, it’s often still confined to the world of electrons — emails and direct messages on Twitter — but I’ve also been blessed to meet a few of you face to face.

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Finally, without Thinking Out Loud, there would never have been a Christianity 201, which has benefited me spiritually in so many ways. I thank those of you who tell me, “I read both blogs;” it is humbling to think you spend that amount of time with me on a daily basis.

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So this time around, it’s Happy Birthday to you the regular readers here at Thinking Out Loud. Thank you for keeping us among the top Christian blogs in North America.


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January 31, 2017

Before Screens There Was Newsprint

Filed under: Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:26 am

From the time I was 20 to the time I was 30, four of my friends started Christian newspapers. In the times before screens, there was newsprint and anyone with minimal ability to do basic layout and the funds to pay a printer could have their very own outlet.

Oddly enough, the type of offset printing used to print newspaper was called web printing — or fully, web-fed printing, to distinguish it from sheet-fed printing — a term which has taken on a different meaning in the digital age. Most of us had worked on high school newspapers and understood the low-tech technology.

In a world where it seems that everybody has a handful of social media platforms on which to share their poetry or prose, their political views or their literary skills; it’s important to realize that those living in a pre-internet age had no fewer opinions or no less desire to see their words in print reaching a mass audience. (Also, unlike today, we knew how to insert paragraph breaks. But alas, I digress.) I had a byline at some point in each of the following ventures.

The first paper I became involved with started by friend Steve, who named it Deluge. On page four of each issue, we were reminded that “Deluge means flood…” but I can’t remember the rest of the purpose statement. The paper was officially published by the Toronto Christian Activist Forum, which to the best of my knowledge consisted of Steve. I don’t believe the group had held a meeting, or a forum, or done any activism, but I could be wrong. My job was to write music-related content. The 12-page paper was distributed free on college and university campuses at a time when a great host of other interest groups were also distributing newspapers. Together, we contributed to the demise of many forests.

delugeWhen Steve grew weary of the project, I took it over, dropping the activist group reference. The paper became wholly subsidized by a business I had started, and showed up at more Christian gatherings than college campuses, but basically consisted of advertising for music related products and events.

That caught the attention of a local concert promoter and radio program host, Gord who started the paper Triumph. Unlike the rest of us, Gord had a friend named Tom who was a professional graphic artist and was able to upgrade the quality considerably.

One of the people who worked on that paper was another Steve. He dreamed of doing something to reach the same basic audience — twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings — but on a national scale with rented commercial office space in the heart of downtown Toronto. His publication used the same type of web printing, but rather than a tabloid size, was printed in magazine form. The magazine was called Destiny. The idea was to focus on a much wider variety of interests; not just music.

Although it was a given that I would write for Destiny I was initially hired as advertising sales manager. This was based on the assumption that because I had been involved in writing for a variety of publications — both these and much larger U.S. magazines — I knew something about selling ad space. We now know that this assumption was somewhat flawed. Did I mention that during much of the time I was supposed to be traveling the city meeting with clients I was having to borrow my mother’s car?

Destiny had a truly beautiful layout concept, but the initial issue was printed on the same paper stock that had been used in each of the earlier ventures which gave rise to it. In other words, it was a magazine printed on newsprint. But not only that, it was a magazine that was somewhat ink-saturated, with the result that after only a few pages, one was leaving fingerprints on everything they touched.

Furthermore, the official launch issue of Destiny was shipped in bulk across the country to Christian bookstores who had not requested it. While there are ways to put a positive spin on negative-option or consignment sales; the particular retail climate of the day meant that store owners were not entirely receptive. Bundles of that first issue started returning, many of them unopened.

Eventually, while some nicer full-color issues on better paper stock appeared, the magazine wasn’t destined to survive long-term. It was at Destiny that I was asked to commit what I now see as a breach of writing ethics. Or maybe not. (You’ll have to tune in on Thursday for that story.)

The final venture with which I was associated brought things back to a more regional territory and was in fact sponsored by a local church. My friend Vince started Crosswalk — ah, that poor name, used to this day by so many ministries — which was the print outreach of a dynamic youth outreach in Toronto’s northeast suburbs. It was the product of a particular time and place; so many people talented in the arts producing music, writing and visual fine art. Minus the aspect of living in community, it was a smaller scale of what Chicago’s JPUSA was doing with Cornerstone magazine and Resurrection Band; and the house band at the coffee house ministry which sponsored the magazine was actually good friends and toured with Rez Band…

…And where you live there are similar stories. Visiting different cities and connecting with different youth ministries as an itinerant speaker, I would always pick up copies of whatever publications were stacked up on the lobby of the concert hall or church basement. If we really liked a graphic image we would literally cut and paste it. (Yes, the thing you know as Ctrl-V actually had an element of glue to it.)(Or command-V for you Mac users.)

These publications were the way we promoted our youth events, sold our t-shirts and shared our testimonies. When an issue was ready to go, we didn’t press a “publish” key, but took the finished layouts to a printer where we told they would be ready in 3-to-5 days. If you noticed a mistake after going to press, you couldn’t edit printed copies; you had to live with it. As for stats, if your copies were still lying in a pile a week later, you knew the response wasn’t great.

Later, a generation who worked on such things would move on to writing for denominational publications and national ministry organization newsletters; but there was nothing like the early days of just starting something, even if it left black fingerprints all over everything you touched.

 

December 1, 2016

Devotional Details and The Shortest Distance Between Two Points

Christianity 201 - newAt least once a month, I try to let readers here know what’s going on at this blog’s sister site, Christianity 201. This time around I thought I’d get into more details.

C201’s tag line is “Digging a Little Deeper.” What I mean by this is something deeper than those little devotional booklets that offer a key verse, a paragraph with a cute story, three more paragraphs, a poem and a prayer. I know many people who use these, and I support the ministries which print them, but often they’re over and done with in 60 seconds. Even with the devotional website I read each morning, it’s easy to be in a hurry and read the key verse, skim the rest, and then move on to other computer activity.

I started C201 at a time when Thinking Out Loud was mired deep in some investigative stuff about the latest Evangelical scandals. I needed balance personally. I started with some short quotations and brief Bible expositions that had a huge faith-focus and then C201 found its identity with pieces which went a bit longer. There are no points for length, but I felt there was too much online that was just too short. Eventually I got into the rhythm of scanning the internet for people who were writing deeper devotional and Bible study content. Some days go deeper than others.

Presently we have two regular writers; Clarke Dixon is midweek (usually Thursdays) and Russell Young is Sundays. I try to do one a week. Most of our writers are people who have appeared previously on the blog. There is a very broad range of doctrinal perspectives. We’ve only had two take-down orders in 2,435 posts and both of them were Calvinists. Just sayin’. (I am looking for one more writer if you are familiar with C201 and feel qualified to contribute.)

On a personal level, I need this. I need the personal discipline that comes from coordinating this project. I need the input of the material that is used. Because Thinking Out Loud posts in the mornings (usually) Christianity 201 posts between 5:31 and 5:34 PM EST. Again, it’s a personal discipline, and with great humility I say, even on my worst days spiritually, I am always in awe of how the daily devotional Bible studies come together.

…So a longer set-up this time around. Here’s what we’ve been up to lately, and as we say regularly at C201, click the title below to read this at source.


The Shortest Path to Reconciliation

Last Sunday, Andy Stanley spoke on the the three “lost” parables of Luke 15: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and The Lost Son. While this is very familiar to most of us, I am always amazed at how the various dynamics and nuances of this famous story result in the situation where good preachers always find something new in this parable.

The premise of the parable is set up very quickly:

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

The last seven words have been amplified and expanded in expository preaching for centuries, but Andy noted:

Andy Stanley 2013This son was gone relationally long before he left home. This relationship was broken.

The father wanted to reconnect with the son so bad, he chose the shortest road back. The father wants to reconnect relationally so much; he knows the relationship is broken; the conversation is the pinnacle of a bunch of other conversations that probably went on… He knows the son is distant… the son is gone, he’s just physically there. The father wants him back; not his body, the relationship. He chooses for the shortest route back. He funds his departure.

What the audience heard when Jesus said this was that the father loved his son — don’t miss this — the father loved the son more than he loved his own reputation, and for that culture, they summed the father up as a fool. This is when you need to go to Leviticus and find that hidden verse that says, ‘stone the rebellious children,’ because this kid deserves to be stoned. In the story the father says, ‘Okay. Let’s pretend that I’m dead. I’ll liquidate half the estate…’

…Here’s a dad who is willing to lose him physically, lose him spatially, lose him to (potentially) women.

He didn’t mention this, but I couldn’t help but think of Romans 1, verses 24, 26 and 28:

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

Implicit in this is the idea of God “letting go” of someone, giving them over to their sin. This particular message in Romans 1 seems very final. But in I Cor. 5, a book also written by Paul and in a context also dealing with sexual sin, we see Paul using the same language but with a hope of restoration:

4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

The language in the last phrase isn’t found in Romans 1 but occurs here. Eugene Peterson’s modern translation renders it this way:

Assemble the community—I’ll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man’s conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can’t, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment.

Back to Andy’s sermon! The story in Luke 15 continues:

20b “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Andy continued:

He ran to his son and threw his arms around him…

…Why, when the son was leaving; why when the son had his back to his father, did the father not from that same distance, run throw his arms around him the son? Why does he let the go? He doesn’t chase after him throw his arms around him and say ‘Stay! Stay! Stay!’? Why now? It’s the same son, it’s the same distance. It’s the same two people But now he’s running toward his son to throw his arms around him and bring him back. Why? What’s the difference.

This is Jesus’ point. This impacts all of us… The father desired a relationship. The father desired a connection the father desired a connection. — not a GPS coordinate, it was not about not knowing where the son was — it’s not spatially, it’s relationally. What the father wanted more than anything in the world was not the son living in his house, but to be connected with the son and when he saw the connection being made when he saw the disconnected son begin to reconnect he ran toward his son and he kissed him.

He concludes this part of the sermon by reminding us that Jesus is telling his hearers:

‘My primary concern is not the connected; I know where they are. And I’m grateful that we’re connected. My priority, my passion, the thing that brought me to earth to begin with was to reconnect the disconnected to their father in heaven.’ This answers the question, why would Jesus spend so much time with irreligious people? …The reason Jesus spent so much time with disconnected people is because they were disconnected. The reason Jesus was drawn to people who were far from God is because they were far from God.

The gravitational pull of the local church is always toward the paying customers. It’s always toward the connected. It’s always toward the people who know where to park and know how to get their kids in early and find a seat… The gravitational pull and the programming of the local church is always toward the 99 and not toward the 1. …We all, individually and collectively, run the risk of mis-prioritizing… how we see people.

There’s much more. You can watch the entire message at this link; the passage above begins at approx. the 50-minute mark in the service.

October 22, 2016

Overcoming the Fear of the Other

This is a re-post from Aaron’s blog, Voice of One Whispering. Click the title below to read at source.


img-102216Attitudes on Race – What You Can Do

Sure, let’s talk about race on the internet. This will end well.

Race has been on my mind recently.

Perhaps tensions are growing or perhaps I’m only now becoming aware of them. As soon as I start to forget about them, there is a new protest or a new shooting. We’ve seen the Black Lives Matter campaign contested with All Lives Matter. The US election is stirring the pot. We’re a bit tense.

Worse yet, there can be no impartial voice in this. Everyone belongs to a race. I am white. I cannot speak for black communities and I can’t even speak for every white person. So what can I say?

I think it’s important that we occasionally hit the reset button on these larger topics and examine how we think about them. We should think about how ideas are formed and how ideas are received. Here’s a golden question: “What will build bridges? What will lead to reconciliation and what do I have to do on my part to make that happen?”

Some don’t want solutions. Some are happy to live a life of prejudice but others among us are looking for solutions. We want to build bridges. The problem is that relations between various races are very complex and difficult to reconcile. It would seem very foolish for someone to claim they had easy answers.

I have easy answers. I have had wonderful friendships with people from lots of different races. We’ve made it work. It’s possible and it’s been done by many besides me. What are my friends and I doing differently? Lots of things, but here are three that are harder.

Humanity Before Race. If we put our race before our humanity, we cannot build bridges. When we do this, we begin with a “us vs them” mentality. Game over. We must start with a common understanding. We are all humanity first. We then acknowledge that we don’t enjoy the suffering of the other. Our common enemy is prejudice and selfishness. When we imagine the other race as the enemy, we are creating conflict, not healing it.

Furthermore, when we put humanity before race we will not be deluded with ridiculous ideas about racial or cultural ‘purity’. Races and cultures evolve. They should. Being white today does not look like being white 500 years ago. There is no ‘purity’ here. Fusion cuisine is awesome. English is a mix of Germanic, Greek, French, and Latin words. Let your culture be molded by another.

Amnesty. This is when my European heritage becomes a problem for some. I did not enslave anyone or steal from anyone. I have not hurt anyone and I am not racist. Agreed? Agreed. The more interesting observation is that among my Caucasian inheritance are things gained unfairly. I live on land that was taken. So how do we address this? Whose is this land? Does it rightfully belong to today’s native peoples? Is it to be taken away from my generation which didn’t hurt anyone?

We cannot erase history. If we want to, we can carry our bitterness indefinitely. There will always be something to retaliate over. If we can’t find reasons, we’ll invent reasons. That is why a wise man once said to “turn the other cheek”. That is the only way to definitively end conflict. Someone has to have the last hit.

Your power to break the cycle lies in your ability to restrain your own hand.

I like to put it like this: “I will not apologize for what I did not do, but my door is open.” I often hear the well-off getting the first part of this right while ignoring the second half. Fortune is not a sin. Neither is success unless it is at the expense of others. Complacency is a sin. Selfishness is. I will accept my responsibility to give to those less fortunate. In turn, I expect to not be resented or portrayed as a villain.

Overcoming Outrage. We cannot work through our prejudices or pain if we only speak out of anger or rage. It’s entirely understandable for a person so be angered and furious over seeing their people hurt but we cannot found reconciliation on outrage. CGP Grey has some relevant thoughts on this.

Revenge will not bring closure. Hatred will not bring healing. There is a time to call for justice but it must be done for the right reasons.

So if this is so simply, why do we still have a problem?

1. We are all born with fear of the other. This fear inevitably tries to manifest itself as hatred. If we don’t do the work, our default state is hatred.

2. The work is hard. We have to put aside a lot of anger and pride in order to do what I’m asking. But we’re adults so that shouldn’t be a problem.

3. It is a problem anyway because some people are just bad. Some people are just evil and cannot be helped. We can stand by their victims but we can’t fix them. Focus on building the bridges that you can, rather than dwelling on the ones that are impossible.

The answers are easy. Humility, forgiveness, generosity, and selflessness. Living those out is harder. It will mean letting go of some things that are yours and it will mean making compromises. Every relationship does. But don’t be a doormat – find people who will be self-sacrificial in kind. Strengthen those relationships and let those people pour into your life as you pour into theirs. Defend others and value their welfare above your own. Hold on to what you have lightly and give generously out of your time, heart, and wallet.

We can’t heal the whole world but we can make a difference. We can strike a blow against prejudice when we put others first.

September 22, 2016

A Pastoral Career: The Parabolic Curve of Church Size

Filed under: Christianity, Church, writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Conrad sat in the living room staring at the “yearbook” that Central Church had given him when he resigned several years ago. Well, “resigned” wasn’t exactly the right word, but other than that, there was nothing about his time pastoring the 700+ member church that did not evoke fond memories. He was only the third pastor Central had ever known, and while he did not experience the rapid growth of his predecessors, he’d seen the church grow from 556 members to 703.

Not that it was about numbers. Well, maybe it was. His first church was 168 members, but he was only there for three years. Then he jumped at the opportunity to go to a 289 member church, where he stayed for five years. Next, he entered a four year term with the 374 member — oh, my goodness; it really was about numbers; he couldn’t believe he had remembered all that detail.

Short StoriesBut Central was the pinnacle as it turned out, twelve years, and average weekend attendance just under a thousand in two services, with 703 of those people full members.

And then he got sent to East Valley on an interim pastor assignment, that ended up lasting six years. Smaller numerically. A little backward culturally. He was balding now and the 414-member church was an older demographic that signified, along with his own age, the numbers might start dropping. And then it did.

Before he knew it, he was doing a meaningless job in the district office waiting out the years to retirement. He had ridden the entire parabolic curve of church size.

He put the yearbook down and sighed.

“You’d better get ready to go;” his wife Carla admonished from the kitchen, “The service at Whispering Willows starts at 2:00 PM.”

So this is what it comes to, he thought. Sunday afternoon chapel services in the local seniors’ home.

The pianist assigned from the Salvation Army didn’t know any of the hymns he’d bookmarked. “We tend to do Army music;” she confessed, “But I can do Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art.”

“That’s all they ever want to sing anyway;” Conrad told her, and at 1:55 Whispering Willows staff started wheeling in the dozen-and-a-half women and three men who had signed up to go to chapel that week, plus two staff. Okay, a few of the residents used walkers, but he noticed that everybody that week had some type of appliance necessary to get them around.

At 2:00 he opened in prayer. At 2:01 they sang How Great Thou Art. At 2:05 they sang Amazing Grace. At 2:08 he asked the pianist if she would play a little number from her Salvation Army hymnal. She gladly obliged, but the tune was unfamiliar and the melody was incomprehensible. But now it was 2:10.

Conrad checked his watch again. These services ran an hour, usually 40 minutes of singing and a 20 minute message. He knew he needed to stretch, so he asked if anyone had any prayer requests. “Just put your hands up.”

Surprisingly a woman in the second row did just that. He nodded toward her to share anything with the group and she said, “This isn’t the dining room.”

“No it isn’t;” Conrad replied.

Silence.

More silence. He noticed the ticking of a mantle clock he’d never noticed before. Things had never been this quiet.

“You know;” the retired pastor said, “I come here each month and I’ve never really told you much about myself, so before I share today’s scripture reading and message, perhaps I should share my story.”

So he spoke about his call to ministry late in high school, and how he had gone off to his denomination’s Bible college, and how he graduated and started climbing the ministry ladder. The problem was, as he had done before leaving for Whispering Willows, he was sharing more about the metrics of the various churches than about anything else that had happened in those various communities.

There was no story about Fred, or Jill, or Michael, or Jennifer, or anyone else. It was about the 168 and the 289 and the 374 and the 703 at Central Church and down to the 414. There was no reference to Carla standing by him in all those years in ministry, or raising a daughter and two sons in those various churches.

And then Conrad stopped. He had been listening to his own story. And he realized that it sounded pathetic.

It wasn’t that all he cared about were the numbers; it’s that he was bitter about never again getting the adrenaline rush associated with being able to speak to a thousand people each weekend. About being bounced down to a smaller church. And then left to deteriorate in a useless administrative position in the district office.

Another resident raised a hand, this time one of the men.

“You left out a number;” he said; “22. There’s twenty-two of us here, twenty-four if you count yourself and the woman who can’t play the piano.” (Of course he had miscounted by one and ignored the staff, but…)

“Well actually;” he said, trying to do some damage control, “I think she did those hymns really well, she just doesn’t know the ones that are in your book.”

“Well I grew up Salvation Army, so hey, Miss, do you know Thou Christ of Burning, Cleansing Flame?”

“I don’t think we know that–” he started to say, but the pianist suddenly lighted up and launched into a rather rousing introduction, uncovering previously hidden keyboard skills, and the man stood to his shaking feet and in a loud and clear voice sang verse after verse.

As it turned out the song had a hook, a line that repeated constantly and by the 4th verse, all the residents were singing. Singing loudly, “Send the fire, Send the fire, Send the fire.”

By now it was 2:40 and he was back on schedule.

He read the text for the message, a sermon from the files of the glory days at Central Church, slightly shortened to fit the 20-minute window. In his mind he was back there. Two services. Almost a thousand people every weekend.

One of the two staff members held up a cardboard sign that said “One Minute Left.” He thanked everyone for coming and gave a short benediction. The staff members started getting ready to pull wheelchairs out of rows and into the hallway.

“Wait a minute! Stop!” yelled the man who had introduced the last song into the service mix; “That number you forgot. We aren’t 703 members, but there’s twenty-two of us, and we’re the best damn twenty-two people you’ve got right now.”

Conrad looked deep into the man’s eyes, and then noticed the smile.

And then he smiled back.

And then time froze and the staff stopped moving wheelchairs and everyone waited for Conrad to say something in return, except he couldn’t think of anything. Nothing at all. So he said the first words that popped into his head.

“This isn’t the dining room.”

 

August 26, 2016

Blogroll Update # 5

It’s been a full year since we last ran an update of some of the Christian blogs I’ve bookmarked in my computer. The blogroll that appears daily here is only a small part of the sites I have visited or used in the compilation of the weekly link list and includes some well-known writers and some obscure ones.

close-to-home-on-blogging1Here’s the link to part one. (The really big one from almost two years ago.)

Here’s the link to part two. (Sixteen months ago.)

Here’s the link to part three. (14 months ago, includes my news sources.)

And here is the link to part four. (One year ago, includes blog aggregators and people who do things similar to the Wednesday Link List)

Blogs
Home | Ratio Christi
Christ Hold Fast
john pavlovitz | Stuff That Needs To Be Said
Bethany House Fiction | Connecting you with your favorite authors.
Stumbling Zombie | Insights of a zombie stumbling towards the Light.
A better country
Vic the Vicar!
James Edward Sharp | … musical take on the world.
Disciple All Nations | Great Commission for the 21st Century
Redeeming God | Rescuing Scripture, Theology, & Church…
Her View From Home
Pilgrim’s Rock – Worldview Apologetics Online Courses Books
Uniting Grace
Janet Mefferd | A Christ-centered look at life
The Christward Collective
Acculturated
Slowing Down and Speeding Up Time | Shalem Mental Health Network
Welcome to the BreakPoint Blog
Justin Petrick
ChurchPOP | Make holy all the things!
Brain Pickings | An inventory of the meaningful life.
GoodOleWoody’s Blog and Website
Purple Theology | The Blog of Austin Fischer
Art of the Christian Ninja
Enrichment Journal
Unsettled Christianity
Junia Project Home | The Junia Project
Gender Equality Blog | The Junia Project
The Evangelical Calvinist
Technology, Christianity, Culture | Second Nature
East Coast Veritas | … church planting in Atlantic Canada
Devotions — Proverbs 31 Ministries Devotions
Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Jeff K. Clarke – Jesus (RE)Centered
Life in the Kingdom
Teaching Nonviolent Atonement | …Building Cultures of Peace
Theology in the Raw
The Mordecai Blog
CaroleMcDonnell
Liturgy of Life | Sacramentally Cultivating a Household
Christianity in College | Rejoice always, pray continually…
Alan Rudnick | Pastor, Author, and Speaker
Uncommon God, Common Good
Christ Almighty!
Blog – What’s Best Next
A Life Overseas | — the Missions Conversation
Sheep To The Right
Daily Devotions
Randy Bohlender | Family – Faith – Adoption
Mark Buchanan
Christian Funny Pictures – A time to laugh
MOS – Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
Jessica Hammer
Samuel D. James | Assorted thoughts on life, faith, and culture
Clarion: Journal of Spirituality and Justice
Read. Engage. Apply.
Circling The Story – Life: mundane and glorious
Ponder Anew on Patheos
Nail to the Door | A call to a new Reformation
Words of Faith, Hope and Love
The Recovering Legalist
That Mom — real encouragement for real homeschool moms
Cerulean Sanctum | …1st century Church in 21st century America
Johnblackmon’s Blog | swimming in the inkwells of indelible grace
Home – Simply Jesus
Blessed Earth | Inspiring Faithful Stewardship of all Creation
The Abuse Expose’ with Secret Angel
The Wardrobe Door
Adventures in Faith & Art | MANUEL LUZ
DyerThoughts – Home
Standing on my Head
JarridWilson.com
firstthreequarters | Christian Old Testament interpretation
Sinner and Saint
Life’s Great Dare
WINTERY KNIGHT
Tin Roof Sky | Listening for God’s voice in the everyday
Amber Cantorna | Beyond
Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely aka Mennoknight
dispatchesfrombrian
The End Time
Reachout Trust | Reachout Trust
Scattered and Small
Faith, Fiction, Friends
Abandoned to Christ
Watch Keep
Heart Language
Quadratos
Ched Spellman
hisgracemygrowth | … life as a Christian wife and mother…
aaron niequist
Facts and Trends
Matthew David Brough – author of the Del Ryder Series
Families First Magazine
EveryStudent.com – Exploring Important Questions about Life and God
Disciples of hope | Living the hope that comes from Christ
spiritual maturity | What does a mature Christian look like?
Tish Harrison Warren
Thimblerig’s Ark | One writer’s journey through faith, art, and life.
Pete Enns | the Bible for normal people
Building Old School Churches
Conventional Futures – On the future of the SBC — J.D. Greear
Survey of Christianity | A personal exploration through my beliefs
A Church for Starving Artists | Where the passionate are fed
Bible Study Magazine
From frightened to father
Carlos Whittaker » BLOG
Scripture Paths
Magazine – Shattered Magazine
The Free Slaves Devotion | A quest to know who I am in Christ
Bryan Hodge | Applying New Testament Christianity to life today.
Encourage Me
The King’s English
You Have Heard it Said
The Iridescence of Grace
MarkHowellLive.com
Blog | Mark Buchanan
The Apologetics Minion – Following Jesus With All My Mind
Produced by The High Calling – The High Calling – Theology of Work
The Christian Reviewer
MOS – Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
Apostles Creed – Reformed Orthodox Confessional
Sets ‘n’ Service
Bloggin’ The Word
Society of Evangelical Arminians
Exceptional Christian | Christian living – a lifelong learning process, striving to become more like Jesus Christ every day.
Gene S. Whitehead • Faith, Family and Life
Seeds for the Soul | Planting Biblical Truth Every Day of the Year
Redeeming God | Rescuing Scripture, Theology, & Church from the Shackles of Religion
Faithful Thinkers
Hot Off the Press | Living On Tilt
Blog — Jonathan Martin
Welcome to WFM – Worship Facilities Magazine
Blessed Beyond Words
Vicit Agnus Noster, Eum Sequamur
Missio Nexus – Connecting the Great Commission Community
First 15 devotional – Denison Forum on Truth and Culture – Home
Chocolate Book
The Road | Obedience is Better Than Sacrifice

Feel free to use the comments to make suggestions for others I should consider, but check the other lists — use your computer’s ‘find’ feature — to make sure they haven’t already appeared here. 

Note: If you find something here where nothing has been posted for six months, let me know and I’ll delete it. Also, if you find a link which points to a specific article rather than a homepage, let us know that, too.

July 3, 2016

Yard Sale Bonus

Filed under: Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:25 pm

it will be a blessing to you

Not far from us, a large Pentecostal denomination operates a summer camp and retreat center. At the beginning of July, they have a giant yard sale which we try not to miss.

As I walked by one table on Saturday, a woman was describing a large waffle iron to a potential customer. Sensing she was about to close the sale, she added to her description, “I think you’ll be blessed using it.”

“Wow!” I thought; “You just don’t get that type of guarantee at a regular yard sale.” This is a waffle iron that comes with an added blessing.


Many times in my 20s, I was on the other side of the commercial transaction table. I was helping my boss, who owned a Christian music distributing company, exhibit at concert and festival venues.

Not lacking a dry sense of humor, he would often stand there while someone held the vinyl record, cassette tape, or compact disc in their hand inwardly debating the purchase, and he would say, “You will be blessed.”

Strangely, the joke never got old. It was the same principle; the idea that the purchase of the item included an intangible; a blessing for the recipient. I think sometimes it tipped the balance and resulted in a sale.


In Christianity, we throw terminology like this around far too loosely. Better to be honest: “I got a lot of use out of that waffle iron and it’s still working perfectly. I think you’re making a wise purchase.”


Looking into the Biblical meaning of blessing further resulted in Tuesday’s post at Christianity 201, appearing July 5th around 5:30 PM EDT.

July 1, 2016

The Music That God Likes

Today’s guest post is from Ruth Wilkinson who may or may not be related.


It was hot. I was tired.

I was spending the summer working in the kitchen of my favorite camp, supervising and cooking. And when you’re doing work you believe in, with people you like, it’s easy to run to 16 hour days.

I’d finally hung up my ladle, made a cup of tea, and sought out a quiet, dark and relatively cool spot to relax before going to bed.

The porch. Concrete floor and walls. Old wooden pews against the wall. An unimpeded view of the moon on the lake. Behind me, a window, open to the ‘lounge’, which was busy with other staff playing games, chatting, making music. And me in the shadows outside, listening.

Under the window indoors there was a piano. If not for the wall, I’d have been leaning against it.

Two people came to the piano and sat down. His camp name was Rocky, one of the senior summer staff, full of character and wit.

Her camp name was Joy.

If you met her, you’d know that it could never be anything else. She’s one of those people who carry light with them into the room. A 100 watt smile, always ready. Hugs, encouragement, hope.

She was also about 80% deaf. A hearing aid in each ear. Her parents, as some do, had decided not to have her taught sign language. They wanted her to grow and live in the world of the hearing. So her interaction with the people around her was through lip reading and her own slurred, exaggerated speech.

But Rocky and Joy had decided that it was time for her to learn to play the piano. ‘Cause camp is like that. Behind me, out of sight, he sat down at the high end of the keyboard, and she at the low end. I doubted they knew I was there.

He hit a C chord and sang “Je – sus..” and showed her where the C note was. She hit it. Bom.

He played a G chord, sang “loves me…” and showed her where the G note was. Bom.

A minor. “This I….” G is one up from A. Bom.

C. “Know…” Back to the first one again. Bom.

F chord. “For the…” Which one’s F? Yeah, that’s right! Bom.

And on they went, all the way through 2 verses and 2 choruses, patient with each other.

C chord. “So….” Bom.

They laughed and high fived each other. He was called away.

I thought, “Well, that was nice. I’m glad I heard that.” Sipped my tea, looked at the moon, rested my head against the wall and thought about grace.

But she stayed at the piano. Playing notes, combinations of notes, what she thought might be chords.

I thought, “Oh, dear.”

She began to play more loudly, more confidently. Crashing and tinkling.

I sighed.

She started to sing. The singing of the deaf. Loud. No tone, no melody. No rhythm or any relation to what her hands were playing. Right out the window, over my head.

I groaned.

She sang, “Jeeeeeeee – sus! (crash) Jeeeeee – sus! (bom) I love you Jesus! (crash) I love you God! (bom) Thank you for saving meeeeee! (tinkle) OH, GOD, I LOVE YOUUUUUUUU! (crunch) YOU ARE BEAUTIFUUUUUUUL! (kabom) YOU CREATED THE UNIVERRRRRSE! (CRASH BOM)”

I thought, “God, I’m tired. I just wanted some peace and quiet. Is that so much to ask? How much longer is she going to keep making this NOISE?!”

I’m not exactly sure how to describe the next sensation I experienced. The closest I can come is when you’re a kid at the grocery store with your granny, and you say something rude to the guy behind the counter and she slaps you across the back of the head.

SMACK!

And in that moment, I heard that voice that you hear with every nerve and fiber of your body. Whispering.

“She’s not singing for you. And you have no idea what she sounds like from here.”

 

~Ruth Wilkinson


Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

May 27, 2016

What You Blog When No One’s Looking*

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, writing — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

*with apologies to John Ortberg’s Who You Are When No One’s Looking

img 052716

With a 74% U.S. readership, the idea of writing something in-depth on the day most of my readers are packing up for a Memorial Day Weekend activity makes me think it would be a good time to just post something simple — a cartoon, for example — and let it go.

That said, on this site’s worst day it draws more readers than those belonging to the many people who faithfully post their thoughts without consideration of numbers. These are like the original “web log-ers” (from which we got the word blog in the first place). They write for the sake of writing and don’t frequent their stats page. For those who post daily, it’s about faithfulness and consistency.

I am reminded of the original goal of Christianity 201. I decided to something that was just for me and whoever else wanted to tag along for the ride. I was managing eight different blogs back then, and it took a year for C201 to arrive at an established format or concept. I would just post something I thought was more spiritual than the topical issue of the day on Thinking Out Loud. I needed balance. I needed to do it regardless of who was looking.

As I pulled all these thoughts together, I was reminded of a trip Ruth and I took to the northeastern states a few years ago. I’ll let her tell it:

Boston was one of our most recent expeditions. Really interesting city, American history machine aside. Cool architecture, good subway, Chinatown, really easy to get lost, terrible maps, good food. Perfect. Some historic churches. Mostly for “freedom” reasons, of one kind or another.

We chanced upon one that really struck me. Not as old as some of the others, probably. No “Paul Revere slept through the sermon here” plaques. But a lovely red brick building, tucked away in one of the more serpentine neighborhoods. We climbed a few steps to a back door and found it unlocked, so we went in. Found ourselves in a foyer of sorts, creaky floored and unlit. There was another door in front of us, so we pulled that one open. Creak. Stepped to the threshold. Creak. Peeked through the door. Creak.

It was beautiful inside. Warm and hushed and soaring. Stained glass windows, old dark pews, draperies and candles. It smelled of polished wood and wax and flame and time and prayer. But we didn’t go in any further. We closed the door and left. Creaking all the way…

…You see, the reason why we left without really going in is that when we opened that inner door, we heard something.

Someone speaking. One voice.

One voice echoing through the room, over the pews, off the windows. The pews that were completely empty, the windows that were telling their stories to no one.

One voice, chanting in what might have been Latin. Reciting a text that no one would hear. Except the speaker and God himself. Because they were the only ones in the room.

As we left, we looked at the sign on the fence outside. “5:00 pm. Mass”. It was 5 pm. So the Mass was being said. Whether anyone was there to hear it or not. It had to be said.

Why? I have no clue. But it had to be said. If only to the antique pews and the priceless glass and the glowing candles and absolutely not a living soul. Haunted and driven by tradition. Disregarded by life and humanity…

In the end, it’s not always about the audience, or the feedback, or the recognition. Sometimes you just do what you do.


 

 

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