Thinking Out Loud

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.


 

 

May 16, 2016

“I heard you perfectly, now tell me what you said.”

Writing Literacy CommunicationIn an age when we are bombarded with voices and information, it’s easy to miss the essential core of what someone is trying to say. I often find myself going back over sentences, paragraphs and pages to make sure I get the gist of what the writer intended, and am currently re-reading a book I recently finished because I want to make certain I’ve internalized the writer’s message.

There are probably a number of reasons this becomes necessary, such as:

Overly Idiomatic

Some writers clearly overdo it when it comes to use of cultural or idiomatic expressions. One friend of mine, who worked with a “Biker Church” loved the cutting edge Bible translations but not The Message which he felt overused American speech patterns. I don’t agree, but it’s a reminder to guard the temptation to speak in nothing but clichés.

Over Concision

It was Noam Chomsky who introduced me to the idea of concision. I’ve taught it as, “You’re selling your car through a media which is charging you $1 per word. How do you describe your vehicle persuasively, but keep the cost down?” I believe that texting or Twitter can force us into communication which is simply too abrupt. A few more words or sentences would better flesh out the story or argument. Many times I will go back through something posted here and tighten it up, but alas, as I’m not paid to do this, much that you read here is first draft.

Overly Prosaic

The opposite of the above problem is writing which overflows with flowery language and description. Some people are simply too verbose. (Notice that I kept this section short!)

Overly Cute

This becomes an issue in a world where people are accustomed to cutesy headlines and teasers. It leads to a “style over substance” situation where people end up impressed with your wit, but have no idea as to your intention. This type of writing or speech often distracts or misleads.

Poorly Structured

Living as we do in a bullet-point world, people want to follow your train of thought from (a) to (b) to (c) to the conclusion. Unfortunately, prose doesn’t offer us the possibilities seen in, for example, a flow chart, unless we’re prepared to do a lot of backtracking. In my own writing, I am very aware of overuse of “however…” or “On the other hand…” and sometimes it is unavoidable.

Too Culturally Specific

In a fragmented culture we don’t all see the same movies or listen to the same songs. If you referencing a film, it may be necessary to take a paragraph to set up the plot rather than assume that the storyline is part of a common culture.

Lack of Annotation

Especially in written works, some background or sourcing needs to be provided in footnotes or appendices, where it goes beyond the flow of the article to do it in the type of set-up paragraph noted above. This way the reader who is lost can get back on track.

Loss of Focus

Going back to our introduction, and my re-reading of a recently completed book, some of the responsibility has to rest on the listener or the reader. It’s possible that my own first exposure to what you wrote or said was ruined by my own lack of focus or ADD tendencies. In conversation, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Do you mind repeating that?”

Topical Ignorance

Again, this is reader/hearer problem. It’s possible I’ve waded into a subject with which I lack sufficient background knowledge, or a breaking news story or trend of which I was completely unaware. No amount of re-reading or asking you to repeat will cover my need to take three steps back (yes, an idiom) and do the necessary research in order to catch up.

Previous Bias

If I truly don’t like the speaker or author, it’s easy for me to be dismissive of the source. If you don’t believe the book has anything to say, you might find yourself skimming its pages instead of attempting to properly digest the contents.

Generational Shifts

People communicate differently from generation to generation. As you get older, you often need to brush up on the communication styles of, for example, Millennials, or you might miss the full impact of what’s being said. Included in this is shift of meaning of individual words. A few years ago, if your son said he “had a wicked time at youth group;” this probably meant it was great, not evil. You would need to know the word usage in advance. 

Terminology Differences

This problem arises frequently in the type of topical writing we do here and occurs when people of different faiths use the same term, but are using it entirely differently. It’s hard to not mention the example of Mormonism, where discussions often break down because people don’t stop to define their terms as used in their church. It’s a more serious problem than the generational changes of the previous section.

Generally, communication isn’t complete until the reader has fully understood. The adage that “If the learner hasn’t learned the teacher hasn’t taught” may oversimplify the situation, but I believe it’s applicable more times than it isn’t.

May 6, 2016

When You’re Overly Concerned About What Others Think

Filed under: Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:18 am

John Wesley quotation

When going through old blog posts here, I sometimes find a graphic that I decide to re-use on Twitter. That was the case yesterday when later in the morning I posted the above quotation from John Wesley. It had been used here on the blog just the one time before.

And then I noticed something I hadn’t seen before, which was the source of the image printed in the bottom right corner.

For several minutes I stared at the screen trying to decide if I should immediately delete it. Thoughts of:

  • Am I appearing to endorse something?
  • Would people think I am part of a particular cause?
  • Do I want people to interpret the quotation in that context?
  • Is it not easier to crop the image and remove the credit?

were countered by thoughts of:

  • If you’re borrowing the graphic you should really give proper credit.
  • The statement, “Jesus Loves Gays” is not untrue.
  • How did you miss the rainbow and the attribution two years ago?

So four hours of agonizing over this later, I checked out the actual Facebook page. The content there is written by someone (or several) who see their gay-ness as completely compatible with their Christ-following. This isn’t a new development. We’ve written enough before about ministries such as the Gay Christian Network and New Direction to know that opinions on this subject cover a wide spectrum. (To see all the coverage here on this issue, check out the first 3 pages or so at this link.)

But what matters most for our discussion today is that I was concerned about my image than I was about the quotation. Would I lose Twitter followers? Start rumors? Be pigeon-holed into a certain category?

…Oh, so now you want clarification where I stand? If you’ve ever heard me speak on this, you’ve heard me speak of The Good, The Better and The Best. Basically, God has a best and once you are convinced of that, you realize that anything else falls short of that. Several blog posts touch on this, but I’ve never really written one which presents this succinctly…

Alas, here I am now trying to defend myself. What follows is a general letter I wrote five years ago following the suicide of one (or several, I can no longer remember) gay teen. It’s already appeared here twice before today. I think this is a clear picture of where I’m coming from, though it’s not as clear as many would like.

Oh, and by the way, I left the Tweet in place.

Dear __________,

Somehow I found your blog today. I’m from a different part of the world, and a different generation, but I want you to know that there is no mistaking your pain, and I could feel that pain in your writing and I care very deeply for you.

High School can be a terrible environment. People commit verbal and physical abuse easily, and even the kid with the greatest degree of conformity can unwittingly become the target of the week. The bullies act out on their own insecurities, perhaps even insecurities as to their own sexual identity, though you don’t dare suggest that out loud.

Your life is a story that’s being written page-by-page, day-by-day. Only you get to choose the ending. I know you’re going through a period of depression, but your story doesn’t have to have a tragic ending. It doesn’t have to go the way you think it does. Your story can have an ending where you conquer, where you rise above the circumstances and perhaps even get to change some of the circumstances. You can write new chapters where things move in a different direction, where you can look back and say, ‘It didn’t get better overnight, but here’s a scene that was the beginning of where it got better.’

You should also know there are now alternative high schools where people are more accepting of your present sexual orientation. You might want to seriously look into that. Your parents would have probably helped you with college and university costs, they just need to be convinced that in your case you need that help sooner. But you might be able to find something closer to home if you live in a larger city. There are many ways to get that high school diploma.

I said present sexual orientation, not because I want to get into that discussion, but because you’re still fairly young, and like I said, there are always new chapters being written. On the one hand, I recognize that you know your feelings better than anyone, so the people who say, ‘This is just a phase he’s going through,’ aren’t being honest about how things are. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t want you to believe the lie that says, ‘This is who I am.’ Your sexual identity isn’t 100% of who you are, what you can accomplish and the person you can become. If you write on a piece of paper, ‘I am gay;’ write it in pencil, not in pen. You might actually some day need the eraser. I say that not because I’m doubting the reality of who you are now, but simply because, as a young teen, you are still a work in progress.

I should probably end by telling you that part of the reason I’m taking the time to write this is because I believe in a God that loves all people and therefore doesn’t hate anyone. I’ve seen other blogs written by young teens who are gay but have a deep faith, and are trying to follow Jesus in every aspect of their life. They pray, they read the Bible, and they try to find ways to serve others in Christ’s name. They are making a difference in their world. I have no doubt about that, but of course, also being gay, they remain a bit of a mystery to some of my Christian friends. I think God’s capable of sorting that, and I invite you to reach out to him in prayer, because I believe that He alone is the only source capable of helping you through the pain. I believe if you take one step toward him, he will come running to you.

Paul.


May 5, 2016

Moving on to Bigger and Better Things

life's journey

As many of you know, I follow an unofficial and invisible ‘algorithm’ of sorts whereby I consistently return to same month posts from previous years to look for new material and new approaches to old topics.

Sometimes there are surprises: The particular item we quoted or linked to has been scrubbed from the site, or the entire blog or website no longer exists. I’ve never purged an article from any of my sites. If it was worth saying that day, I think it’s worth being able to go back and examine it again.

But often, it’s just a case of the writer stopped writing and rode off into the sunset.

The reasons vary, I suppose; but this one got to me:

This week I signed a publishing agreement with [name of publisher] to write my first book.

And with that, he was gone.

I recognize that you can only be active on so many fronts and perhaps if I had a book deal with that publisher — which came close once; they read my manuscript — I might reconsider the daily posts here. But then I keep thinking: It was probably their blog that got them the attention which led to the book deal, and now they’ve stopped doing the thing that got them where they are.

Some things we do in life are stepping stones. One thing leads to another. Once you’ve mastered the bicycle, you tend to leave the tricycle in the garage. I get that. But when it comes to sharing your thoughts in a forum like this one, I don’t see how you can simply not have anything more to say. What about topics that aren’t the central theme of the book you’re doing? Do you no longer have opinions on subjects that are currently on the minds of your (former) readers?

If you are a regular reader here, you know where this is going: Pastors who reach a degree of national prominence, get a major book contract, and step down from local church ministry. We saw this in the last decade with people like Rob Bell and Francis Chan.

I don’t think it’s right to sit back in my recliner and armchair quarterback other peoples’ lives. I would probably never claim to know the will of God for someone’s journey. I believe it highly presumptuous to critique the career changes of individuals I don’t know intimately.

However, in the realm of faith, I believe that the heart of ministry is local church ministry. Show me a published author who detaches himself (or herself) from the day-to-day stuff of the local congregation, and I’ll show you someone who will slowly lose the thing that got them their book contract. On a micro scale, show someone who is a pastor, but is never available at the door to shake hands after the service, or never does coffee shop appointments with parishioners, and I’ll show you a pastor whose sermons will become distanced from the very people he (or she) serves.

For those who are blessed with a deal from a major publisher: Don’t stop blogging. Don’t quit doing the everyday, run-of-the-mill thing that got you where you are. Your book won’t suffer; the non-contractual writing may in fact enhance it.

Not all bigger things are better things; they may just pay more bills.

April 25, 2016

Camp Memories (1)

Through a variety of circumstances, and with only three years experience ever having been a camper in my teens, I found myself on senior staff at a Christian camp for three summers.

The first year of the three the camp was in somewhat of a recovery mode. A previous administration hadn’t worked out and in desperation, the general director turned to an old friend who had spent a career in foreign missions to whip the place into shape. That man in turn rounded up a dozen people from the mission agency who were also catapulted into senior staff roles.

Organization PoliticsAs it turned out, that was oil and water. The senior staff was definitely split along “us” and “them” lines. One of the staff members had a baby girl, and various members of the “them” would take turns bouncing her on their knees. Let’s say the girl’s name was Carly. I did notice that the senior staff seemed divided into Carly-bouncers and non-Carly-bouncers. That was my own appraisal.

Beyond that, I was completely blind to the politics of the organization. Although most of my Christian service orientation at that point was with parachurch organizations, it was around the same time that I was discovering local church politics. But generally speaking, I was completely oblivious to the two factions that persisted at camp. I was there to do a job, and I tried to do most of my socializing with junior staff and if context permitted, even campers.

I also joined a coffee klatch, so to speak, consisting of two or three other senior staff members. The invitation to join had been highly qualified. I was told how Lewis and Tolkien and Kierkegaard would meet regularly for drinks and that the trip to the local village bakery for coffee and butter tarts (and me to pick up the camp mail) would be the equivalent. Really, they wanted to know if I, as one of the catapultees was a “them” or an “us.” And they were being very carefully guarded about what they said to me and I was being extremely vague because I had no idea about the organizational politics. Questions included shots in the dark such as, “Have you noticed anything unusual going on at camp?” (For the record, I was equally clued out about some of the young women on staff and missed a lot of social cues. If you were a female housekeeper or dishwasher that year and you’re somehow reading this, I apologize for not responding.)

However, once they heard my Carly-bouncer analogy, I was accepted as an “us,” even though it took about three weeks to get that far.

Caught in the Middle - DivorceThe mission agency people knew very little about Christian camping or even youth ministry in general, especially in comparison the “us-es” but their third world exposure meant they had good organizational skills, an ability to adapt, and a variety of gifts. Overall, I think the kids who attended that year got their money’s worth from this diversity, even if things at the senior staff level were a constant tug of war. (Important takeaway: Parachuting people from other ministry disciplines into unfamiliar contexts is not always a great idea.) I felt that within their own missions-and-development tribe, there were probably reasons to respect some of these people, not to mention their willingness to take on the camp challenge at the last minute.

What I was not prepared for was the very low view they had of those on the other side of the great divide. I had come to this job because I at a young age, I had youth ministry experience, had already started my own business, and brought an extensive knowledge of music, particularly the modern worship genre that was still in its infancy at that point. One of my other coffee klatch club members had vast experience in Christian camping, the third was studying to be a pastor and the fourth had both camping and pastoral training. Three of the four of us returned the following year when the missions people were swiftly dispatched in a spring cleanup the following spring.

So nothing prepared me for the moment when one of the “thems” came to me one day, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Your problem is, you’re completely shallow.” Wow! There’s an insult. Try it on someone sometime. Or don’t.

Shallowness I look back on it now and imagine Lucy from Peanuts, “You know what’s wrong with you, Charlie Brown? You’re totally shallow. You have no depth.”

I suppose in comparison to the travel and education opportunities she had experienced, I may have seemed like one of the kids on the farm, even if the farm was the urban ministry environment of Canada’s largest city. On that day however, the choice of words was devastating. I think it hit me hardest because it was everything I felt I wasn’t. I was a Renaissance man. I was tech and media savvy. I was well-read. I had a attended churches in a wide swath of denominations. And I did have a little travel under my belt, four countries including 40 of the 50 U.S. states.

Still, I did allow the short exchange to have some redemptive value. I worked hard to not be a one-issue candidate. To not obsess over certain pet subjects or causes. To read outside my comfort zone. To immerse myself in contexts and conversations with persons who are different. To study articles about things that aren’t my usual interests. To try to meet different people and then get inside their heads and understand their histories.

I don’t think I’m a shallow person, but…

…I do ask myself in certain situations if I’m being shallow. Is the conversation or relationship at the point of taking a leap to the next level — sure, use the video game analogy if it helps you — but I am remaining stuck at Level One? Or is the person on the other side of the exchange really hurting and I can’t see the question behind the question? Or am I missing an opportunity to go deeper because I’ve formulated some entirely different other agenda as to where I think the discussion is going? Or do I have a simplistic view of the topic at hand because I’ve never tracked with that discipline or genre? Or are my own topical choices tending toward the superficial?

Being called shallow could have been a scarring experience, but instead, I used it to form a system of checks and balances in my life. Though the rebuke was done entirely to hurt and to wound, I think it shaped me in some positive ways.

 

 

April 2, 2016

Being Needy While Wanting to Help Others in Need

Filed under: blogging, Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:44 am
Crowdfunding websites make it possible for ordinary people to get financial help and support when needed.

Crowdfunding websites make it possible for ordinary people to get financial help and support when needed.

Because of the particular path our lives have taken, there have been times when we have accepted financial help from friends and acquaintances. In the process, we’ve often said that the people who are least able to help are usually the ones who give. I’m not positing this as a universal truth, I’m just saying that it’s been the case in our situation.

In Wednesday’s link list, I felt moved to post a story about a family who faced unusual financial hardship during Lent because of their daughter’s illness and are asking for help. You can read that link here. 48 hours earlier, my wife showed me a crowd funding page that was set up by students (or former students) in a local high school for a guy who part of our church plant ten years ago and has had a medical diagnosis that will result in unexpected costs. You can read that one here.

I’m reading these through the lens of our own situation.

My wife came to me a few weeks ago — she’s our family and business bookkeeper — and said, “We have enough in the savings account to last us one more month, and then we’re done.” By ‘done’ she means we don’t have a back-up plan, unless we cash in one more savings fund — which is currently locked — and take a huge penalty for so doing.

I announced in Monday’s column here:

We’ve never monetized Thinking Out Loud, but this labor of love — along with our Christian bookstore — have totally depleted our savings. Still, how does one do effective fundraising in the face of other families and individuals with seemingly far more urgent needs? After our US/Canada 800-number, toll-free, call-in-a-pledge appeal failed last year, we’re looking for something that will actually help us keep going. We hope to have an answer late this week. 

But as the week went by I keep fighting taking this particular approach. Surely the two stories listed above are far more worthy of my readers’ support, right? Still, I know there are longtime readers both here and at Christianity 201 who might give if we created the right vehicle for processing donations.

Within the Christian realm, there are bloggers like Tim Challies who is able to blog full time because of referral income and sponsored posts. Author Skye Jethani is not currently on staff at a church (or at CT) and is supporting his writing and podcast ministry (and his family) through the sale of monthly devotional subscriptions, and eBooks. (Check out, How Churches Became Cruise Ships.)

Because of my involvement in a brick-and-mortar Christian bookstore (which loses money almost every day the doors are open) I still can’t bring myself to be a referrer to A-zon or even CBD, both of which have contributed greatly to the closing of such Christian shops all over North America. So I’ve never monetized the blog in that manner.

And there is the pride issue. As a twenty-something, I was told that I have difficulty accepting hospitality in all its forms. Plus there is the fear of putting it out there only to find the donations embarrassingly meager. Add to that wanting to be hero; wanting to be the one helping others, not the one asking.

So the announcement I was going to make this week is postponed for now. I leave you the comments section — if you wish — for two purposes today.

  1. If you can recommend a crowd funding type of website that isn’t time-limited and would allow people the opportunity to support Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201, I’d love to hear it. Bear in mind that I’m in Canada, but nearly 80% of my readers are in the U.S., so it has to be American-based, but able to pay us up here.
  2. If it’s got a Christian connection, feel free to mention any fundraising page you’re aware of that’s running now. Honest! I don’t mind. (I might delete the comment after any relevant expiry dates.) Today is one day you can use the comments to promote a cause.

 

 

 

 

 

March 24, 2016

How the Internet Accelerated Change in the Church

close-to-home-on-blogging1This is part two 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 recent 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 and we still keep in touch and occasionally I steal articles from him! 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 love those guys!

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 11, 2016

A Different Response to Envy

Over the years here at Thinking Out Loud, we’ve turned to the Steve Laube Agency for background articles dealing with everything from plagiarism to manipulating the New York Times bestseller list to the restructuring of a large Christian bookstore chain. Steve’s primary work however is dealing with author contracts with major publishers, and if you read the “acknowledgements” section in works by your favorite Christian writers, you’ll see his name connected to some very well known people!

But as we discovered in the article below, sometimes his blog branches out to deal with other aspects of being a professional writer, for example dealing with the success of other professional writers.

You must click the link in the title below to read this even if only to see the very appropriate graphic they included that we didn’t poach (!) and catch some of the comments. But just in case you don’t…

Turn Envy Upside Down

••• by Tamela Hancock Murray

Envy is one of the seven deadly sins and not easy to conquer. Who hasn’t felt jealous over someone else’s success, especially when it doesn’t seem deserved? Seeing an outright enemy succeed is even worse.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, take your feelings of envy and put them to good use. That is, make those feelings work for you so you can succeed.

Here’s how:

  • When someone in your sphere is successful, send unvarnished congratulations. No backhanded compliments or sarcasm permitted.
  • Once you are alone, see how you feel. Do you feel envious? Chances are, you feel you deserve what that person has. Acknowledge those feelings and move to step three.
  • Evaluate the person’s journey. Was the “overnight” success a reality? Or has this person worked for years to have a particular book published, or to be published at all?
  • If so, consider that effort. Resolve to increase your efforts.
  • If not, don’t credit that writer’s success to “luck” because that takes away from such accomplishment. After all, you wouldn’t want your accomplishments credited to luck. Instead, look at what the writer is doing. Why do you think that book speaks to readers? Resolve to make your own work more appealing.
  • Always, always pray for a pure heart. Then take a genuine interest in the writer you envy. Engage her on social media. See what you can learn. If you are already friends with the writer, perhaps she can become a mentor. That is a powerful place to be.
  • Sin takes power away from us. Those who practice love are victorious.

Your turn:

When was the last time you were envious? What did you do?
What other tips can you offer to conquer envy?
Do you have a story about how a successful person inspired you?

click the title above to see the responses

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