Thinking Out Loud

May 12, 2018

If a Sermon is Preached in a Forest, and No One is There to Hear it… ?

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:16 am

by Ruth Wilkinson

…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.

…Church with a sermon and no congregation.

original article at GTI

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August 20, 2013

Guest Post: Why We Love Our Hollywood Heroes

My guest blogger today writes anonymously under the name Flagrant Regard. There are some reasons for this, which may or may not involve the Witness Protection Program. Or maybe it’s another one of those deals where somebody famous like J. K. Rowling pens some material under an alternative byline. Or perhaps it’s a lot less interesting than either of those possibilities…  You can catch his writing at — wait for it — Flagrant Regard.

Why We Love our Hollywood HeroesHow many times have you seen this in a Hollywood flick:

Man falls in love with woman, woman appears to have her sights on or a commitment to someone else.

The smitten man – always the story’s protagonist – does his best to win the woman’s affections and to become her ‘one and only’.  But, as the plot goes, the woman’s potential suitor finds himself in a losing battle with the other man in her life, or so it appears. And then of course, there comes this powerful moment in the story where he relinquishes his pursuit of the woman he’s in love with and, burying his hurt, stoically tells her something like, “I love you so much, I can’t afford to see you unhappy.  I want you to be with the man you truly love, and if it ain’t me babe, then at least I know you’re content.”

In some movies the protagonist gets another kick at love’s can as the woman in the story realizes what a truly unselfish man she’s throwing away and, forsaking the safe and familiar, falls hard and passionately for the new guy.  At other times (but is less rarely seen in modern American films) the pursuing male wanders off dejected and alone as he sadly accepts his destiny –  not being with the woman he’s in love with.

In either outcome, we value the protagonist as a true, unwavering and selfless hero who wants the best for the one he loves even at the cost of his own happiness.  Now that’s a Hollywood hero!

We cherish our silver screen heroic archetypes, especially in stories like the above, because of the selflessness involved; the sacrifice that springs from genuine love.  As we watch the drama unfold, we find ourselves wanting to believe in that noble kind of love because we know it’s the right kind to fully embrace and which also ‘sets the bar’ for ourselves.

But what of our heroism with respect to our following Jesus?  How much more should we be ready to sacrifice our selfish wants and desires – no matter how painful it is – in order to make sure the God we claim to love is pleased?  Are we willing to give up all or, like the rich young ruler that Jesus encountered who was not willing to give up that which he held most dear to him, we too walk away without God’s blessing or true fulfillment in our lives?

My wife and I heard these wonderful words of Martin Luther from a preacher just the other day:

“A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.”

In order to gain Christ, we are told it will mean us losing our very lives and sometimes walking away from the things we value most.  Will we walk away from a relationship that God’s word states is not right or will we blithely dismiss the clear instructions of the Scriptures in order to suit our desires or ideals?  Will we say in our prayers, “I want You to be pleased with everything I think, say and do, even if it means my sacrificing the things and/or beliefs I hold on to (which I think matter most).”?

Loving God often means struggle and persecution, but it is ALWAYS about forsaking all in order to gain Christ’s blessing, once we’ve been saved by His grace.  If you view the Gospel in any other light, you are not yet a beneficiary of the truth.  Yes, God is all about love, but he’s also about holy living, exemplary behaviour as befitting His people and He expects TRUE REPENTANCE:  an about face in our hearts toward God and a resetting of our minds that enables us to seek out what God’s will is for every aspect of  our life.

Do you want to be a hero?  Do you want to have the audience of angels and saints in heaven – and your heavenly Father himself – cheering for you?  Then be holy (sacred, morally upright, set apart), be seeking God’s will and be ready at all times to give your all no matter what the cost is to yourself.  This is how we win in this life and in the next.

© Flagrant Regard, 2012

“On His journey vast crowds attended Him, towards whom He turned and said, “If any one is coming to me who does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and his own life also, he cannot be a disciple of mine. No one who does not carry his own cross and come after me can be a disciple of mine. “Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not sit down first and calculate the cost, asking if he has the means to finish it? — lest perhaps, when he has laid the foundation and is unable to finish, all who see it shall begin to jeer at him, saying, ‘This man began to build, but could not finish.’ Or what king, marching to encounter another king in war, does not first sit down and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand men to meet the one who is advancing against him with twenty thousand? If not, while the other is still a long way off, he sends messengers and sues for peace. Just as no one of you who does not detach himself from all that belongs to him can be a disciple of mine.”
(Luk 14:25-33)

“Therefore, surrounded as we are by such a vast cloud of witnesses, let us fling aside every encumbrance and the sin that so readily entangles our feet. And let us run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, simply fixing our gaze upon Jesus, our Prince Leader in the faith, who will also award us the prize. He, for the sake of the joy which lay before Him, patiently endured the cross, looking with contempt upon its shame, and afterwards seated Himself– where He still sits–at the right hand of the throne of God. Therefore, if you would escape becoming weary and faint-hearted, compare your own sufferings with those of Him who endured such hostility directed against Him by sinners.”
(Heb 12:1-3)

December 19, 2011

Casting the Role of Mary in the Christmas Play

Canada’s largest newspaper has an ethics reporter which often overlaps on themes we discuss here. Ken Gallinger’s column appears on Saturday in The Toronto Star, but unfortunately, when I wanted to excerpt from this one, it hadn’t been posted online.  Ken was kind enough to send me a copy, but it flows so well that I really want you to read every word of it in context.

This may hit a few of you where you live. Ever wished you had the wisdom of Solomon? Ever been in a situation in church life that was so politically hot you could hear the paint peeling off the walls? 

Maybe you need a neutral mediator.  An ethicstitian. The weekly column has a Q&A format, so this one begins with a reader question:

Q: I have been seconded to direct my church’s Christmas Pageant. Every year, kids look forward to being old enough to fill the two main parts: Mary and Joseph. This year, we have a new family that just started coming in September. Their daughter is 12, and a star in the community theater group. The minister has “encouraged” me to use their daughter as Mary; he believes this would help the family integrate into the congregation. I don’t think that’s fair to girls who’ve been coming faithfully since they were born. What’s your take?

A:  It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Mothers clambering to sign up their daughters for a make-believe life of perpetual virginity. Ministers hiding Scotch under their pulpits. Pageant directors leaping off ecclesiastical bridges. Kids crying because they are typecast as donkeys.

And speaking of donkeys — your minister’s heart may be in the right place, but he needs to give his head a shake. There are countless appropriate ways to welcome new families into a worshipping community. They can be greeters. They can serve at the Christmas dinner for the poor. They can light candles, read scripture, sing in the choir. Opportunities are endless.

What there aren’t, I suspect, are a lot of perks for kids who regularly attend church (synagogue, mosque, whatever) week after week from the day they are born. While other kids are off playing hockey, swimming, sleeping in, lying on the beach at their cottage, these little troupers come out faithfully to listen to stories — often packaged in the most boring way imaginable — recounted by voluntolds who would rather be almost anywhere else.

Then along comes the Christmas pageant, and there’s magic in the air. Who will get to be Mary this year? And who will be Joseph?  The new kid?  The BRAND NEW kid??? Hee Haw.

I’m not arguing seniority should be the only consideration on occasions such as this. I’d want my virgin and her stunned non-mate to be good “citizens” in the congregation – kids who take part in the work as well as the fun, kids who could be counted on, kids who would put in the effort to carry such major roles. I’d also want them to know the difference between Jesus and Santa – there’s no time to explain that Rudolph wasn’t in the stable with Mary and Joe.

This might not always result in the selection of the very best dramatis personae from a theatrical point of view. It might not satisfy the big givers, whose kid (comes three times a year, between trips to Europe) ends up as a palm tree in the background. It might not call out a Mary who is beatific in appearance or demeanor. What it would do, however, is make clear that faithfulness has at least a few rewards … and if that’s not true at church (synagogue, mosque, whatever), is it true anywhere?

A final note: I have a five-year-old goddaughter who is beautiful, talented and smart.  If anyone needs a rent-a-virgin for their pageant this year, let me know … she’d be terrific. Did I mention how talented she is? Star quality. References available.

~Kenneth Gallinger

So, do you agree? Has this ever happened in your church? Were you ever a shepherd or a palm tree? Have you read or seen the movie of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever with Loretta Swit?  Don’t you think ethicstitian is a really cool word?

May 29, 2010

If a Tree Falls in the Forest, and No One is There to Hear It…

Today’s item is a joint-post between this blog and my devotional blog, Christianity 201.


I got some rather flukey traffic this week which drove the stats to a record high.

Then there is Christianity 201, which I do mostly for myself. It has readers, but nothing close to this one. I enjoy blogging at Thinking out Loud, but I enjoy searching my own heart to come up with things to post to C201.

The contrasting stats reminds me of something that happened last summer, which my wife blogged as part of a longer piece:

…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.

…Church with a sermon and no congregation.

You can read her article which, in context, has a whole other set of meanings, with the most inescapable being what you get from the second last paragraph: Tradition; irrelevance; religiosity.

Christianity 201 is different, however. This is blogging in the original “web-log” sense of journal-keeping. It remains available for future discovery; readers driven perhaps by items I have yet to write.

(Have you ever noticed how close “stats” sounds to “status?” So stats-seeking is really status-seeking.)

And all of it of course is being read by some people already. I’d probably do this even if there weren’t any readers. Having tasted both the highs and lows of statistics, I’m not sure that one is better than the other. It’s somewhat similar to what I wrote about the contrasts between the large church we attended two weeks ago, and the much smaller one we attended last week.

Still, I don’t know how that Boston cleric could do it. Something unseen drives him to go through the forms of the mass even though no other humans are present…

…Although, I wonder if later that day, he suddenly remembered hearing the door creaking and sensed that an individual; no, wait; a couple came in, listened for a minute, and then left?

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