Thinking Out Loud

February 9, 2018

Growing Up in a Strict, Ultra-Conservative Christian Home

This is a review of a book. Its inclusion here does not imply endorsement.

On Wednesday, I read a 390 page book in a single day. That’s somewhat unusual for me, but the weather, some really great writing, and a fascination with the story combined to make this possible.

Rapture Practice: My One-Way Ticket To Salvation by Aaron Hartzler is his true story. It is published by Little, Brown & Co., not Hachette’s Evangelical imprint, FaithWords, though in my opinion it comes oh so close to fitting in there, especially the first two-thirds. That’s probably why it took me five years to be aware of this 2013 title; that and the fact it was marketed as a Young Adult memoir. I’ve missed being in the target audience by many decades.

We first meet Aaron as a four year old, being groomed for the role of church play actor; though as he grows up, it’s a different type of acting which captures his attention. There are are short scenes from his early school and summer camp experiences, with most of the book taking place in his high school years. It is in high school he really starts acting only the role he is playing daily is one of a church kid who is at odds with the ultra high standards and beliefs of his community and especially his parents.

He’s placed in a Christian school, but his interest in popular music proves too much for his ultra-straight parents and as punishment he is placed in an even more conservative Christian institution. But the punishment in many ways backfires, as these kids seem to have more after-school freedom than anything at his prior school, some of them without having to employ the cover-up tactics that Aaron finds necessary…

…The book is a wonderful time capsule of Christian culture in the 1980s including some things I had forgotten such as Sandi Patty’s divorce and Amy Grant’s admitting that she visited a topless beach. It’s also a reminder of backyard Bible clubs, dressing up for Sunday services, guest missionary slide shows, Pioneer Girls & Boys Brigade, purity rings, and denominational talent contests.

While Aaron is raised with corporal punishment, when he gets too old to spank, his parents disciplinary method of choice is basically shaming. Honestly, this is hard to read, and enduring this with him means I’m often rooting for Aaron instead of his parents. I keep feeling that any choices Aaron made in life — and the book stops many years shy of its own publication date, but I did some further research* — happened because his parents forced him there…

…More remarkable is that I got this book in a load of bargain titles from CBD. Yes, Christian Book Distributors. I can say with confidence that this item totally escaped their usual vetting process, and as it turns out is currently not listed at the site. Nonetheless, I’m glad I got to read it. It may be marketed as Young Adult non-fiction but I think parents should read it as a cautionary tale.

No kid should have had to grow up in that culture of shame.

*There are some reviews online for this book which contain what I consider a giant spoiler, including some editions of the book with a different subtitle also containing that spoiler. I think for me it was more important to let the book take me there rather than begin with some aspects of the story a foregone conclusion. If possible, look for the book with the cover above. The other subtitle was a publishing blunder.


October 29, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Orange Curriculum Parody Poster

Our graphic image theme this week is parody. The upper one is a supplement to the Orange Curriculum, a weekend service Christian education experience for children. You can click on the image and then surf the rest of the web page to learn more.

A bumper harvest this week; get coffee first.

The rest of the week Paul Wilkinson offers you a daily choice between trick at Thinking Out Loud, or treat at Christianity 201.

What a Mug I Have of Coffee

May 8, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Juxtaposed Advertising

This is the link list that the other blogs get their links from after we got them from them in the first place.

It’s a safe bet that neither party purchasing space on the above billboards were aware of the other’s presence.  Or is it?

  • Ravi Zacharias responds to the Boston tragedy and all the issues it raises.
  • And did you read about the Boston Marathon Saint; the guy who gave away his medal?
  • In New Zealand you can name your baby girl Faith, Hope, or Charity, but not Justice. It’s one of a number of banned names.
  • It’s got endorsements from Eric Metaxas, Ann Voskamp, Paul Young and Russell D. Moore. But is The Little Way of Ruthie Leming a title that would be considered a Christian book?
  • It’s not every day that a Christian school science test makes the pages of, but then again you haven’t seen a test like this one.
  • Wanna know more about the Apocrypha, those extra books in the Roman Catholic Bible? Check out this podcast. (Click the link that says “Play in Pop-Up.) (Technically these are the deuterocanonical books, the term apocrypha can include other writings.)
  • And after adding that I found an article of a type that many of us would never see: A Roman Catholic blogger’s apologetic for the Catholic canon of scripture. (Which is by default very anti-Protestant canon.) 
  • If you read Christian blogs, you know the word ‘missional.’ Now here’s a reading list of the top 40 books on the subject.
  • Usually writers have to push their publishers for cool book trailers. This 2-minute video for Jon Stuff Christians Like Acuff’s book Start was a gift from a reader.
  • Quote of the week: “I knew what abortion was before I knew where babies came from. ” ~ Rachel Held Evans writing about a prominent US news story about an abortion doctor that isn’t playing much here in Canada or on the news elsewhere.
  • Also at RHE, Jennifer Knapp responds to some great questions from readers with some great answers. Sample: “I think it’s often overlooked, is that CCM’s genre is not a style of music, but rather it is a very specific message.” Quotation of the type you’re probably more interest in: “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ can be an acceptable working environment for some, but has also been used as legitimate financial weapon at times to enforce individual silence in exchange for job security.”  (Also, JK previously here at Thinking…)
  • And going three-for-three with RHE (it rhymes, too) here’s an interview she did with Christianity Today.
  • And for something much shorter than those articles on Rachel’s blog: Greg Atkinson on what pastors can learn from country music.
  • Here’s a pastor’s nightmare: When your small church is essentially a one man show.
  • Is your church looking for a pastor? Here’s ten signs your search isn’t going well.  Sample: Average time between sending in application and receiving rejection notice: 5-7 minutes.
  • Catholics are borrowing a page from Mormons, JWs and Evangelicals and doing door-to-door ministry. Advice to participants: Trying to provide too many facts about the Church may cause misunderstandings.
  • Here’s a fun 5-minute video for pastors wanting to develop their homiletic skills using a technique called preaching by ear. (A sales pitch follows.)
  • And wrapping up our ministry links, should a pastor know how much individuals give financially?
  • At a certain point (i.e. after the second chorus) this Eddie Kirkland song always reminds me of Coldplay.
  • Going to a summer wedding? You might want to look around at a critical moment so you don’t miss the best part of the processional.
  • Tony Jones loves Greg Boyd (no, not that way) and thinks you should also.
  • From the people who brought you the Top 200 Christian Blogs list, The Top 200 Christian Seminaries.
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January 4, 2012

Wednesday Link List

By request, a fresh take on the recurring List Lynx pun here

(B)link and you’ll miss it! 

  • Hard to imagine anyone opposing a translation of the Bible into another language, but the Jamaican patois version isn’t pleasing everyone.  Text sample: “De angel go to Mary and say to ‘er, me have news we going to make you well ‘appy. God really, really, bless you and him a walk with you all de time.”
  • Daniel Jepsen admits it’s not like him to walk out of a church service, but he did just that when the service went too far, or perhaps didn’t go far enough. Teaching the Bible would have been a refreshing addition.
  • Fuller Theological Seminary’s Kara Powell thinks that while adults and children are all sharing the same church, they’re all having a different experience of it.  In a 4-page article at CT, she suggests keeping kids in church beyond high school means giving them a faith that sticks.
  • He uses his involvement in TV and film production to evangelize well known actors, and he’s been fired by one prominent casting agency for doing so.  Steve Cha talks to Christian Post about evangelizing Hollywood.
  • This is the link to part one of the original video that Ben Breedlove posted at YouTube just days before he died on Christmas Day; though you need to watch part two to get the full story.  Gateway Church in Austin, Texas also posted the 42-minute memorial service  video in which lead pastor John Burke refers to Ben’s faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Cerebral palsy and epilepsy didn’t stop Toronto’s Robert Gagnon from completing a BA at Redeemer and an MTS at Tyndale Seminary, or from launching a new ministry for people with visible disadvantages, Abilities in Christ.
  • Here’s an interesting standup routine by Phil Long that gets some deep analysis on Tyler Braun’s blog.
  • Still haven’t made those New Year’s Resolutions?  Ann Voskamp offers five steps to help you begin.
  • Is heaven and The New Jerusalem the same thing? Think about it.  Here’s a C201 blog post that took on a life of its own in the comments.
  • Mike Breen looks at the Rainer Research Group’s ten trends for the next decade in church life.
  • The man at the center of the Jesus movement in the early 1970s, Costa Mesa California’s Calvary Church pastor Chuck Smith is now battling lung cancer though he never smoked.
  • TV Producer Mark Burnett is joining with Zondervan and the digital team that developed Glo Bible to introduce a new app, Bible 360 which will integrate with devices and social media. Sales will be through iTunes.
  • Seems a policy statement issued at Rossville Christian Academy in Tennessee is really just a mass memo directed at a single student. (The video is useless, but there’s a full text of the story when you scroll down.)
  • Time for one last Christmas image; J. R. Briggs got this from David Fitch; it’s titled Advent Distraction:

September 5, 2011

A Lesson in Humility

There are times we can be so convinced that God is leading us to do something, that even afterward, when the particular vision or project doesn’t meet expectations, it’s hard to believe that, in terms of its original goals, the project was a bit of a failure.

Many years back, I would wake up in the morning, have breakfast and brush my teeth, and somewhere between the cereal bowl and the restroom sink my brain would flash this:  “$100,000.”  I tried to interpret this in different ways.  Was it a reference to Canada’s daily Christian television show, 100 Huntley Street? No, I decided that what it meant was that I was to raise $100K for Camp Iawah.

Iawah — pronounced the same as Iowa — is an acronym for In All Ways Acknowledge Him. It’s the camp my wife and I met at, and the camp where our two boys served on staff this summer. I guess I was hoping that in the process of raising some money for them, I would be welcomed more warmly when I arrived on the property. The camp — though already a second home — would become my “Cheers” bar, where everybody knows my name and they’re always glad I came. Plus, like most parachurch ministries, they could really use the money for capital projects. Secretly, I hoped my efforts would raise $200K.

My strategy was to advertise in Canada’s national Christian magazine, Faith Today, a publication of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. To draw in interest on a national scale, I would focus on the ‘mission field’ aspect of eastern Ontario, the part of the province designated by the “K” postal code.

It’s important to note that this area stands in contrast to the relative ‘Bible belt’ of western Ontario. “K” at the time didn’t have more than 100 churches where there would be more than 100 adults present on a Sunday morning. Most of these were in major cities like Ottawa, Kingston, Peterborough, Belleville, etc. and “K” wasn’t the home of any major Christian organizations or Bible colleges.

“Name a mission field that starts with the letter ‘K'” was the tagline for the advertisements.

Yes, several ads. One for Camp Iawah. One for Northumberland Christian School, a ‘diamond in the rough’ where I had taught part-time for a year, which really needed a financial kick-start; and one for CHRI radio in Ottawa, Canada’s first-licensed commercial Christian radio station. The series of three advertisements would be a win-win-win. The magazine would be an immediate winner with some advertising revenue. My three (at the time) bookstores, also all located within the “K” code, would get fine-print mention at the bottom of the page, also ensuring a business write-off. And of course the organizations in question would be placed on the hearts of readers across the country who would respond with donations.

The first advertisement hit a bulls eye of sorts. The magazine was already running a cover story on Christian camping, and within a week, I was emailed that a family had signed up their kids for that summer. But after a couple of months, I was told, “If any donations we’ve received are a direct result of the advertisement, we aren’t aware of it.”

That was disappointing, but by then the next advertisement was already running. These were 1/3rd page display ads, and I was reminded that, “The effectiveness of any advertising campaign increases after several repetitions.” And due to a technical error, that second one got run twice. But six months in, money was neither pouring into the camp nor the school, and my attempt at raising awareness of ministry need in “K”-land was clearly flawed. I ran the third one anyway for CHRI Radio in Ottawa. After the eight month campaign, I wondered if just giving the money directly to the organizations in questions might not have been a better use of funds.

These were good advertisements, persuasive, informative and well written. So what went wrong? Here are some thoughts, you might have more to add:

  1. The first one, for the camp, was done with mixed motivation. I wanted greater acceptance there, so I sought to earn it somehow.
  2. I acted as a lone ranger, “gifting” my promotional and writing abilities to the organizations, but not working with those people to optimize the opportunity.
  3. I overestimated those same abilities, forgetting that I was, after all, a person who once held a yard sale to which absolutely no one came. A bit of a record, wouldn’t you say?
  4. I possibly needed a lesson in humility.
  5. I got confused by thought patterns like the “$100,000” thing that got stuck in my head, forgetting there are people who, every time they drive by a certain tree or stop sign on the way to work have a song that triggers in their brain for no apparently connected reason.

Since then, I’ve also learned the line, “The voices in your head may be due to the pizza you ate last night.”  But there are also some things that came out of this I need to remind myself:

  1. I did provide some needed revenue to the magazine.
  2. There was the family that signed up for camp, and apparently one that learned of the school.
  3. I will never know if some donations were sent as a direct result of the campaign but just not connected by the donors or the recipients. Or perhaps the ads served as a reminder to people who were already on the mailing list of those organizations.
  4. Despite a lack of tangible results, I did raise awareness of the needs in the “K” postal code, an area that continues to struggle.
  5. I was obedient to the vision I thought I had received with no negative complications or side-effects for pursuing that vision.

Fall is a time in ministry to dream dreams. You need to know with clarity that those dreams are God-sent, but that won’t always present itself with 100% assurance; some of it has to be a step of faith. You need to be willing to risk failure. You need to be willing to do the necessary analysis afterward to see if there’s anything you can learn. I believe that doing something is better than doing nothing.

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Camp Iawah is growing and meeting spiritual needs in the lives of hundreds each year. If someone were wanting to invest in the lives of the next generation, this ministry organization would be at the top of my recommended list.  CHRI Radio has moved from being a commercial music station to the financially-safer format of selling blocks of air-time to radio ministries, but still requires donations to meet its budget. I believe that the Christian school still faces some long-term challenges, though its larger family of schools is worthy of support. 

And yes: The magazine Faith Today continues to be published by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, our equivalent of — but not connected with — the National Association of Evangelicals in the U.S.

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