Thinking Out Loud

March 3, 2019

The Internet, The Church, and Accelerated Social Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was the best of times.

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September 10, 2018

What Does All This Accomplish?

Thinking Out Loud ScreenshotAs a content creator, I try to deliver a decent product 7-days-a-week to my readers. I want there to be value in exchange for the time people spend reading what’s posted. Here are some questions I must ask myself…

1. Is it informative?

My opinions leach out all over this blog, but hopefully I also provide raw information, spot new trends, help readers make connections to other resources, and even educate my readership about things they didn’t know.

2. Is it helpful?

The passing on of information by itself doesn’t really guarantee that reading said articles will make any difference in the life of readers. My goal should be to communicate for life change; to write in the hope that the day’s topics and focus is not only interesting but practical and beneficial.

3. Am I authentic?

People create all types of false personas on social media. I don’t want people to meet me in the real world and find me to be anything less than what my online trail would indicate. That includes the possibility of me deceiving myself into thinking that by virtue of this blog — and its numeric success — that I’m something I am not.

4. Is it positive?

In the last few weeks I’ve been getting messages from one reader who feels that the type of things posted in the Wednesday column each week simply aren’t encouraging. I did an analysis of last week’s and found it to be a rather mix of basic links but also containing some cautionary tales. I am to celebrate the good that God is doing, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand, either.

5. Is it fruitful?

The first four questions were probably sufficient, and I could have left it there, but one of the things I long for on a personal level is to see the fruit of the various endeavors that occupy my time. It’s not a matter of looking for validation as much as simply wanting to experience that organic moment when the seed takes root in the lives of people both individually and collectively.

I think these are questions we need to ask of anything we’re involved in.

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.

 

February 23, 2016

Deconstructing is Easy; Building Takes Skill and Time

Filed under: blogging, issues — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:39 am

Blog Birthday 8

This was actually the 4th item posted when I launched the blog eight years ago, not the first, but I think it reflects what online opinion writers should strive for, especially when it is so easy to write and post critique. The comments following the poem itself were on one of the websites where we located this version of it.


Builders and Wreckers

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a ho, heave, ho and a lusty yell
They swung a beam and a wall fell.

I asked the foreman, “Are these men skilled?
Like the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He laughed as he replied, “No, indeed,
Just common labor is all I need.

I can easily wreck in a day or two
What builders have taken years to do.”
I asked myself as I went away
Which of these roles have I tried to play?

Am I a builder who works with care,
Measuring life by rule and square?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?

Oh Lord, let my life and labors be
That which build for eternity.

Why do so many of us find it gratifying to be sideline cynics smothering ideas in a relentless barrage of “what ifs” and warnings? As the poem points out, it’s much easier to be a wrecker than a builder.

Of course it’s wise and necessary to challenge assumptions, test theories and predict problems, but that should be the beginning not an end. We should measure our value by the number of balloons we helped launch, not the number we deflated.

A builder sees problems as challenges and seeks solutions; a dismantler sees problems in every solution. A builder sees flaws and tries to fix them; a dismantler sees flaws in every fix.

 

September 3, 2015

Content Not Copyrighted

There is no limit on what can be done for God as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.

There’s a worship song currently making the rounds that goes, “It’s your breath, in our lungs, so we pour out our praise; pour out our praise…”  To me, the song is a reminder that it’s God who gives us breath, gives us abilities, gives us opportunities and one of the best uses of that is to offer back praise to him.

For the third time in nearly 2,000 posts, this week we got a take-down order at Christianity 201. Yes, it would be nice to have a staff and be able to contact writers in advance and say, “We think your writing would be a great addition to C201 and we’d like to include what you wrote last Tuesday in our gallery of devotional articles.” But I just don’t have that luxury. So we pay the highest compliments to our writers by encouraging our readers to check out their stuff at source, while at the same time archiving it for the many who we know statistically don’t click through. 

The one this week offered some lame excuse about how I was disturbing his Google analytics by publishing his works, and reminded me that he could sue me. Nice attitude, huh?

These days, most of the authors are appearing for the second, third or fourth time, and many write (both on and off the blog) to say how honored they are that we find their material helpful.

I honestly can’t remember the name of the first two authors, but I know one had some recognition in Calvinist circles; so when the lightning struck again this week, I checked out the guy’s Twitter to look for clues and guess what?

That got me thinking about something I wrote here about 16 months ago…

The Bible has a lot to say about the accumulation of wealth and the hoarding of possessions. Probably the classic statement of scripture on the matter is,

NASB Matt. 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal…

or

MSG Matt. 6:19-21 “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Don’t have any treasure whatsoever.’ True, when Jesus sent his disciples out he told them to travel light, advice that extends through all of life:

NLT Matt. 10:9 “Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. 10 Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick.

But in everyday life, the Bibles teaching presuppose you will have a home or a donkey or bread that you may or may not choose to give your neighbor when he comes knocking late at night.

CopyrightThis week it occurred to me that at the time the Bible was written, one thing that we can possess that they didn’t was intellectual property. There was no Copyright Act; no Letters Patent. Did Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph the Carpenter have a special way of doing a table that would cause him great consternation if Murray the Carpenter down the road started copying the idea? You get the feeling that everything was open source.

I think it’s interesting that in the prior verse of Matthew 10, Jesus makes the often-quoted statement, “Freely you have received, now freely give.”

Personally, there’s nothing on this blog that isn’t up for grabs, provided it’s cited properly and quoted properly and being used non-commercially. Like this article? Help yourself. Yes, in the past I have been paid to write and could thereby consider myself a professional writer; but this is only a blog and it’s vital not to get too caught up in your own sense of self-importance; and I say that not out the spirit of someone who is loaded with wealth, but as a person who has had no specific fixed income for 19 years.

I also thought it was interesting that the one person who was so upset about the use of his material on other than his own website was complaining about a particular article that was about 50% scripture quotations. More than 50%, I believe. Oh, the irony. I can just hear Jesus saying, ‘Uh, could you just link to my words in the Bible rather than print them out on your own website?’

That said, I am consciously aware that a double standard exists in the Christian blogosphere. We both permit and excuse the copying of text, but there is far less grace for poachers of cartoons and photographs. (I guess a picture really is worth a thousand words.) If you take what belongs to them, it’s like trying to wrestle a t-bone from a pit-bull.

In the early days of this blog, the weekly link list included cartoons from Baptist Press. Not any more. Baptists can be very litigious, which is too bad, because the cartoons were worthy of an audience beyond a single denomination. Everybody loses, but that’s the Baptist way, I guess.

Words are cheaper however. I respect intellectual property rights in general, but hey, guys, it’s only a blog.

I really think when the writer is a little older, they will look back and see the foolishness of trying to hang on to what really isn’t yours to begin with.

Think About It: Some things simply didn’t exist when the Bible was written, such as smoking cigarettes or driving over the speed limit. It’s the same with intellectual property. We have to appeal to the timeless, grand themes of scripture to make behavioral determinations.

The corollary to this is that if I do choose to copyright my blog writing here, I am basically saying this is mine; I wrote this, I created it, it was my talents and my gifts that went into creating it.

I’m glad the Biblical writers didn’t feel that way. If you believe in plenary inspiration — that God birthed ideas within them but they stylized it and added their individual touch to the writing — then even if you hold that “all Scripture is inspired” (which I do) you could still make a case that they could copyright the particular words used.

copyright 2But some would argue that even if you say, “This came entirely from God and I shouldn’t really take any credit for it;” if you want your writing to reach the greatest number of people, then you’ve got to put somebody’s name underneath the title.

That’s essentially the case with Jesus Calling. I don’t want to get into the larger debate on that book, because it’s been done elsewhere (with many comments) but if, like the classic God Calling, the “authors” feel that this book is the equivalent to Dictation Theory in Biblical inspiration, realistically, nobody’s name should appear on the cover. I wonder if “by Jesus” or “by God” would sell more or fewer copies than “by Sarah Young.”

You can however engage the commercial marketplace and at the same time take no money (or very little) for your wares. Keith Green is a name that some of the younger generation don’t know, but Keith basically said that if anyone couldn’t afford his records or cassettes, he would send them copies free of charge. It was radical at the time — this was before free downloads — and Keith took ribbing that perhaps he was also going to ship stereo systems to people who had nothing on which to play the music.

Keith GreenKeith Green would have loved blogging — he’d have about ten of them — and would be fighting hard for the open source blogosphere mentioned above, and also  when the first writer protested. (The post then was triggered by an irate blogger at C201 as well, so we’re running one complaint every 700+ articles, which isn’t bad.) In fact, Keith would argue for open source thinking in a variety of Christian media and art.

Bottom line: We have to be careful about holding too tightly to the things of this world including possessions that are tangible and those which are intangible such as intellectual property. 

Moving forward: We’ll try to stick to repeat authors and original devotional material. If you’ve ever wondered if you could write devotional material — and it’s both a rare and challenging calling — check out the submissions guidelines at C201.  

“It’s your breath, in our lungs, so we pour out our praise…”

April 18, 2015

Dear WordPress: Your “Improved Editing Experience” Really Sucks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:14 am

Beep Beep Boop - WordPressToday I’m going to bite the hand that feeds me, I think; or at least one that I feed daily myself.

While it takes a lot of smarts to come up with something innovative, it’s really easy to build on the imagination and work of others. Hence, there are a large number of people in the tech community who earn their take-home pay by “improving” websites that, before their input, were working relative well to begin with.

The blog platform I have used every day for seven years, WordPress, is in my opinion one of the better ones out there; but recent changes to the text editor used to create new posts causes all manner of liabilities.

Specifically:

  • There is no longer any indication as to when posts are auto-saving, if they are at all. Best bet, I suppose, is to save manually and do it frequently.
  • There’s no longer a save that happens when you assign your post a title. I suppose that might benefit people who create the header at the very end, but when you’ve become accustomed to the old system and then hit enter, the screen just stares back at you as if to say, “So….?”
  • When you place some text in a different color, you can’t see that color until you preview. I didn’t know this and kept repeating the same operation over and over. Furthermore, for some inexplicable reason, when you complete a color change, the cursor and text jump to the beginning of the post. Which is a good time to mention that…
  • When you get to the bottom of the visible text area and then go to the top, returning to the very bottom can very difficult. Whether it’s HTML or Visual editor you’re using, the only way to make changes near the bottom of your article is to hit Ctrl-minus until the screen shrinks to a size that it deigns to show you the entire post. You might decide reading glasses are in your future at this point.
  • Your categories display alphabetically, but if you have many — I think I have about 25 — they are impossible to view beyond the first half dozen. In the past, I would create tags first, and then decide which of my recurring categories were suitable. No longer.
  • And then there’s that annoying “Beep, Beep, Boop” every time something is loading. Seriously?

But mostly:

  • There’s no longer an option to return to the classic editor. Not visible, anyway.

Blogging can be challenging. Occasionally, something releases before its time, or I have a sentence that is missing a critical word like “not” (Thanks, Lorne) but the new editor, like the revised stats page, simply offers fewer of the benefits I have come to appreciate about composing on WordPress.

September 27, 2014

What I’m Hoping to Accomplish Here

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:50 am

Thinking Out Loud ScreenshotIn theory anyway, some day I’ll look back at what’s posted here and possibly regret a few articles and might start deleting some. But in the meantime, I try to deliver a decent product 7-days-a-week to my readers.  Here are some questions I must either ask now or ask later…

1. Was it informative?

My opinions leach out all over this blog, but hopefully I also provide raw information, spot new trends, help readers make connections to other resources, and even educate my readership about things they didn’t know.

2. Was it helpful?

The passing on of information by itself doesn’t really guarantee that reading said articles will make any difference in the life of readers. My goal should be to communicate for life change; to write in the hope that the day’s topics and focus is not only interesting but practical and beneficial.

3. Was I authentic?

People create all types of false personas on social media. I don’t want people to meet me in the real world and find me to be anything less than what my online trail would indicate. That includes the possibility of me deceiving myself into thinking that by virtue of this blog — and its numeric success — that I’m something I am not.

4. Was it fruitful?

The first three questions were probably sufficient, and I could have left it there, but one of the things I long for on a personal level is to see the fruit of the various endeavors that occupy my time. It’s not a matter of looking for validation as much as simply wanting to experience that organic moment when the seed takes root in the lives of people both individually and collectively. I think it’s a question we need to ask of anything we’re involved in.

September 20, 2014

The Last Post

Filed under: blogging, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:50 am

No, we’re not talking today about the bugle call known as “The Last Post,” although there is a similarity of theme.  Wikipedia reminds us about that song which originally connoted the end of day for soldiers and then crossed over into memorial usage: “In all these countries it has been incorporated into military funerals, where it is played as a final farewell, symbolizing the fact that the duty of the dead soldier is over and that he can rest in peace.”

Neither are we saying this is the last blog post here at Thinking Out Loud, though perhaps some of you were hoping!

Rather, what got me thinking was a Twitter post from Keith Brenton last night:

If I had just one social media post left in my life, to bring joy and wisdom and love to a sad, stupid, hateful world …this wouldn’t be it.

Okay. But what if you had one post left?  In the endless stream of social media history you’ve created on WordPress, on Facebook, on Twitter, on tumblr, on Instagram, on YouTube… and on everything else; what if you had One Final Post. Your own famous last words. The thing everyone would remember you by.

What would it be? 

Note: These words, phrases and sentences are already taken

  • Related: Two years ago I posted the lyrics to a song I wrote as a much younger person. I was basically asking the same question, “What will my life be remembered for?” It’s a fair question to ask yourself periodically.

February 21, 2012

Christian Blogging: Longing for Open Source Community

Did God give me what I’m writing right now or am I making it up on my own strength?

That’s a question it’s fair to ask in all areas of Christian endeavor. Am I doing this ‘on my own’ or under God’s power? What about the idea that ‘all things come from God?’ Do I really ‘own’ the concepts and insights shown here.

As we closed in on having 700 posts at Christianity 201 last week, for the first time we had a writer who objected to having his content used here. While blog etiquette dictates that you link back to writers’ original pages, statistics bear out the idea that people read the teaser paragraph but don’t click to continue reading. So C201 was created as a showcase — and a bit of a potpourri — of devotional and Bible study writing; much of it from previously obscure blogs that nobody had heard of, whose writers are thrilled to have an additional audience for their thoughts.

For several months, a music and book distributor for whom I was I was doing contract work assigned me to help out in royalty administration and distribution. I appreciate that those who have given themselves full-time to writing for major publishers derive their income from sales. I would never dream of photocopying an author’s work and I have strong views about churches which project song lyrics on a screen at weekend services for which they haven’t paid the appropriate license fees.

But a blog? Seriously?

When the attribution is clear, and the readers are given two separate opportunities — and sometimes additional inducements — to click to the original source page, I feel there is a legitimization of one-time use; though a few writers have been featured at C201 on two or three different occasions.

(Cartoonists however, seem to be another subject entirely. Despite having the largest treasure trove of Christian cartoons online, one denominational website had so many copyright warnings we decided they could just keep their comics to themselves, and stopped using them here at Thinking out Loud.)

The article in question had no copyright indicia, and no page dealing with reprints and permissions.

I would like to think that when God gives us an idea, he gives it to us not only to share, but to see disseminated as widely as possible. Someone once said,

There is no limit on what can be done for God as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.

Attribution’s greatest value is that the people can go back to the same source for more insights. If I enjoy what “X” has to say today on this topic, then I may want to read what “X” has to say tomorrow about some other subject. In fact, I’ve had a handful of off-the-blog comments from people who are now regular readers of writers they heard about here at C201 and at Thinking out Loud.

In giving instructions to his disciples, Jesus said,

“And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. (Matt 10:7-8 NASB)

I’ve had content used (and misused) on other blogs, and at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter much. What does matter is how I respond to the “borrowings” at other websites. Do I say, “It’s all good;” or do I fight for increasing my personal empire here at this website?

The writer in question also accused me of changing his content. I could see how that would be serious. But in fact, all I had done was to remove links to an online bookseller which left him, in one sentence, referring to “this book” with no remaining hint as to what that book might be; so I took the time to insert the title where the words “this book” had been.

I think it was with the objection to that change that the author really betrayed their true motives. Referrer fees from online sales can be fairly significant for a blogger at the end of the month; and I believe it can really cloud a writer’s motives.

I simply won’t do that here. I’m not trying to sell you anything. I’m not making money from this, and in fact I don’t draw a salary from my “day job,” so perhaps I have a different attitude toward the need to see everything I do as a line on a profit-and-loss balance sheet.

I wonder what the early church would think of what we’ve come to; a world where royalty administrators and agents hash out mechanical royalties and performance royalties and you buy a license in order to share the words to the latest worship songs. I wonder if the Apostle Paul were alive today if he would put a little copyright symbol at the end of each epistle? Would Matthew be expecting dividends from the sales of the Visual Bible DVDs that bear his name?

Freely we have received. Freely we give.

All that we have and are is a gift from God.

And we should keep it open source.


Ironically, trying to find a stylized copyright symbol to accompany this article was a challenge since nearly half of them were, in fact, copyrighted. This one above is from an article that also looks at this issue from a balanced Christian perspective

It turns out the “There is no limit…” quotation is making its third appearance here.  In addition to the reference linked above, I also used it in reference to Garrison Keillor at this post.

October 17, 2011

To My Fellow Bloggers: Should Your Blog Exist?

Last night I was cleaning up some comment-following subscriptions that had been in place for up to nearly three years.  Before deleting the subscription, I again read the post and my own comment, and then clicked to see what the blogger had been up to — if anything — lately.

In the process, I came upon this piece by Tim Wilson; the item he used when signed off his blog for the last time in March, 2009.  For the most part, I think this is quite relevant today as well.


Part of being a Christian is having the humility to discern what we can do to best serve the glory of God. So I asked myself: should my blog exist?

It is a question you should ask too. In the light of all these tremendous blogs, should yours exist?

1. Is it unique?

Reformed guys, how many of you are blogging through the Institutes? Or talking about NT Wright? Or discussing Mark Driscoll’s interview with DL?

Be honest, is your blog doing anything I couldn’t find done elsewhere? Is it done in a simpler way or a more in depth way? Does it apply it to the Christian life or to non-Christians? What do you do that’s special?

2. Is it worthy of time?

As I’m reading your blog I could be just as easily listening to a Tim Keller sermon, reading John Owen or taking in some of Sam Storms meditations on scripture. Why should I read your blog?

Maybe some of us should say less. Are we really worth our readers pouring over our 500 words every day?

Also consider, is it worthy of your time? Are you just wasting time writing when you should be studying scripture or reading the giants of the faith?

3. Is it your gift?

Read a site like CopyBlogger or ProBlogger and find out what a good web writer consists of. Is this where your gift lies? If it isn’t, why should we be reading your blog?

4. Do you know what your talking about?

I decided in my early blog days to blog my thoughts on the trinity, despite knowing hardly anything about it. Richard pulled me up on that and I had to retract my comments. Ever since I’ve (tried) to only blog about what I know.

Now don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with thinking through your theology. But a blog isn’t a place. Go onto a forum discuss it with others there.

But when you type something as a blog, to those who aren’t familiar with the format it seems like you know what your talking about. On the last day all teachers will be judged. Are your posts worthy of praise or judgement?

5. Are you about the Lord’s work?

Now I’m not saying “If you’re a Christian with a sports site get it off now”. But are you using your genre to point to Jesus, even in just a small way (i.e. your bio)? Are you building friendships that will lead to souls being saved? If you’re not helping Christians or (more importantly) preaching the Gospel to non-Christians, is your site an opportunity like Jonah to escape from the truth?

6. Are people listening?

Check your stats. Check your incoming links. Check your comments. Are you just speaking into thin air or are people actually listening?

It might be you have a very small audience (hey we all start somewhere). But if it becomes apparent that no one is listening to what your saying then use your time better elsewhere.

7. What’s its point?

Why are you driven to blogging? Do you want to reach out to the lost? Do you want to hone your theological acumen? Do you want to promote good resources? Why are you blogging?

Some of us just blog because we blog. We keep sustained by the idea we might get another reader. Well, that’s just people pleasing and it is idolatry.

Sit down and write an aim statement for your blog, and then think:

8. Would you be more useful in alternatives to blogging?

Not everyone should blog. But there is an awful lot you can do. Here’s some things I’d suggest.

  • Guest posts/co-blog: You may not have enough posts in your veins to post weekly. Why not give your posts to other blogs? Or even ask to co-blog with another group of people, lessening the pressure on you. I’d love to have you post an article here. Drop me an email (whether you’re giving up blogging or not).
  • Comment: On the big blogs, rarely does the author engage with his commenters. You however can follow up on their comments. You may even be able to correct wrong thinking. Go to a liberal Christian blog and reveal their errors (in a LOVING way!!!!). Go to an atheist blog and discuss their stumbling blocks. This is a real ministry.
  • Forums: These are great places to ask your own questions and answer other peoples.
  • Internet Chat: Do you remember when chat rooms were cool? Or am I just really long in the tooth web-wise? There are still people there you can witness to and talk to, if you are more personally gifted.
  • Yahoo Answers: This is a net ministry I think would be great to be involved with. People ask personal questions and there is a theology section. Could you answer their questions?
  • Wikipedia/Knol/Theopedia: If you know something about something very particular, these 3 maybe good places to contribute.
  • Amazon Reviews: You know, most people who buy a book will read its Amazon review. However, few sound books have reviews (especially in the UK) and most of the dodgy books’ reviews are glowing. Could you make a difference there?
  • Stumble Upon/Digg: If you’re one of those people who links like crazy, have a look at sites like Stumble Upon. If you write a good review of a blog post or a site you can send lots of traffic that way. There are many good writers who simply don’t have the publicity.
  • Real life ministry: Old fashioned I know. But have you ever talked to your next door neighbour about Christ? Could you be preaching in a real pulpit rather than a virtual one? Does your church need a new Sunday School Leader? Is this for you?
  • Family: Your spouse and children are always your first ministry. Is your blog wasting valuable time you could spend with them?
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