Thinking Out Loud

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.


 

 

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.

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