Thinking Out Loud

December 14, 2018

Strasbourg: From Someone Who Lives An Hour Away

We’ve linked to or reposted material from Lorne Anderson’s blog Random Thoughts from Lorne several times over the past few years. Lorne is a friend, so I get to ask permission after the fact. Montreal born, raised in Ottawa; Lorne has also lived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and Liberia, West Africa. Our interest today is because he and his wife are currently living in Germany, not far at all from Tuesday night’s attack just over the border in Strasbourg, France. When I read his article this morning, even though we covered this yesterday, I thought it was worth returning to the topic for one more day. The title below is a link to read it at source.

Terror Too Close To Home

This was as close as media could get on Tuesday night. The sign in English would possibly be something like, ‘Strasbourg: Your Christmas Capital.’ (Photo credit FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

by Lorne Anderson

When they are far away, they are just news items we may or may not pay attention to. It is different when they happen in your neighborhood.

Throughout the day Wednesday, people in Canada were forwarding me news stories about the terror attack at the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France. It is only an hour’s drive from our home in Sulzburg; it is conceivably a place we might visit. Indeed, I was in the city on business in October.

News of the attack brought a jumble of thoughts to my mind. As a journalist I was bemused by the coverage I read that described the suspect as having been radicalized in prison. It was supposedly a religious radicalism, though the particular religion wasn’t mentioned.

I get that. The media don’t want to imply that all followers of a certain religion are dangerous, so they omit the name. It was obvious anyway, given that the attacker, since killed by police, was allegedly shouting in Arabic.

I didn’t fully realize the effect locally until my wife mentioned she passed through two police checkpoints Wednesday on her drive home from a neighbouring town. It was thought the suspect may have crossed from France into Germany.

If the intention of terrorist attacks is to stop people from gathering, they are pretty much a failure. There was a deadly attack on a Christmas market in Berlin two years ago, but that doesn’t stop people from attending them today. I think most of us figure the odds are that there won’t be an attack while we are there.

I don’t know if there is much thought to security at these things, though from the news reports there was a lot of police presence in Strasbourg. Certainly there is none at the small-town markets in my area.

Even the bigger markets I have attended haven’t had much visible security. I don’t recall seeing police last year in Colmar, France or Vienna, Austria, this year. I did see police in Freiburg last month, but they weren’t at the Christmas market itself, rather keeping an eye on a street demonstration a block away. There have been lots of people at every market I attend – and I don’t expect that to change.

My first thoughts though upon hearing news of the attack was not about market crowds but of individuals, people I know here and how they would feel upon hearing the news. Becasue I think the intention of many terrorists, though they may not be able to articulate it, is not to strike fear into the general populace, but to sow a generalized fear of Muslims

In Europe, certainly here in Germany, it seems to me most of Muslims are immigrants and refugees. They don’t speak the local language well, they don’t dress like Europeans, they seem different. Integrating into European society (or any new society) can be challenging at best. When people view you with distrust because of your background, it is much harder. When they stare at you when you walk down the street, when you feel the mistrust when you shop for groceries, you wonder if it is worth it to try and fit in to this new society. You might as well give up – you will never be accepted as a full member of society.

That is the terrorist’s ideal. They don’t want Muslims to become French, or German or Canadian. They want them to remain part of a closed society. They want them to remain in bondage.

How we react to a terrorist attack says a lot about who we are. Are we willing to allow terrorists to set the agenda and convince us that all members of an entire religion are evil, intending our destruction? (Please note, I do think there is a difference between the religion and most of its adherents.)

Think about it. How would Jesus have responded? That is how we should too.

 

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December 13, 2018

Strasbourg Christmas Market Shoppers Weren’t Expecting Bullets

Reports of killing rampages which take place in Europe may seem a world away, but it’s different when you walked those same streets just five months earlier. You have a mental picture which no television news crew can come close to approximating. You remember how those streets fit together. You remember the crush of people when you were there. You try to imagine what you might do or where you would run if the same thing had happened on the day you visited.

Crowd scenes have always been potential threats. For as long as I’ve lived, I’ve been aware of men switching their wallets to their front pockets and women clutching their purses more tightly. But of late we’ve realized that every concert, every sporting match, every trip to the shopping mall is fraught with the possibility of a random act of violence being carried out by someone mentally deranged or having a political agenda.

As we walked the streets of Strasbourg earlier this year, those thoughts are always in the back of your mind, but they are buried deep — very deep — as you take in the sights and sounds and smells. The people at the Christmas market on Tuesday night were no doubt in the same head-space; not expecting anything the second before the bullets could be heard.

The city we saw was beautiful. In the collage above, the upper left corner looks like it’s from a tourism photo. The tour boat came by at the right time and there was a young couple, possibly on their honeymoon, standing next to us who I chose not to photograph. We had crossed the border from Germany an hour earlier and after an unnecessarily long bus ride, had been let loose in this picturesque place that stated so clearly we were now in France.

Christmas Markets are a big deal in Europe. Our friend Lorne has written about them extensively. When you’re in the moment of a scene like the one upper right, you never think of people firing shots into the crowd; you never consider your vulnerability. Your brain doesn’t say, “I could be dead in the next five seconds.”

Which is how it should be. You ought to be able to enjoy an occasion like this in relative security. But that’s not the world we live in.

As of this morning the confirmed death toll is 3, with 13 people injured.


(I’ve included enlarged versions of the two pictures mentioned below.)

 

April 29, 2018

Stupid Peace

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:48 am

by Aaron Wilkinson

to read this at Aaron’s blog Voice of One Whispering, where this was a follow-up to a previous post on anxiety and adapting to anxiety with medication, click this link.

I generally like to write blog posts that are self-contained isolated thoughts, but today what I happen to have on my mind piggybacks what I wrote about anxiety last time.

There, I mentioned that my brain “handles” differently now. I have a bit more control over where my thoughts go than I used to. I can steer them, but they don’t turn on a dime. Anxiety still strikes, but now I can do something about it.

A phrase from the Bible that has followed me around for quite a long time is “The peace that passes understanding,” (Phil 4:7). The thing is, I’ve never quite understood what that means. The “peace that passes understanding” passes my understanding. I can partially grasp the idea: because we know that we’re in God’s hands, we can have peace even if everything in our life, as we understand it, is falling apart. We have a peace that transcends what we see in our day to day life.

The problem with this concept is that we’re necessarily giving something up. We handing over our security in ourselves (or lack thereof) and in a self-effacing surrender we’re giving up our desire to be in control and in the know.

This completely irrational foreclosure of individual understanding is called “Trust” and I hate it.

On a similar note, Proverbs 3:5 tells to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” To Western ears, this is the most ridiculous and offensive idea anyone could come up with – willfully not understanding. I imagine it’s also, to those of us prone to anxiousness, extremely attractive.

So I’m still struggling to achieve functional adulthood (whatever that means) and today I was told by my dentist that I might need an unexpected procedure done. A minor procedure for a minor problem, but a pricey one. And on the walk back I was worrying a lot. But then I took the reins of my Serotonin-replete brain and thought “What if I just choose not to worry about it?”

“Yeah, it feels incredibly stupid to not worry about it because it’s a rather harsh blow to the bank account. It’s an objectively miserable thing to have to deal with, but worrying about it doesn’t get me to a solution any faster so why I don’t I just skip the anxiousness phase and make the most of my day?”

And then I went home and took what a friend of mine calls a “depression nap.” You know, when sleeping is easier than thinking about the thing. Again, it doesn’t turn on a dime, but it can be gradually nudged in the right direction.

The peace that passes understanding is a stupid peace because we, in and of ourselves, have no reason- we see no cause for peace. We, in and of ourselves, have no control. But if there’s someone we can trust watching out for us, maybe a little bit of stupidity isn’t just quite pleasant but in fact the most rational response.

It might take a few hours, it might take a few days, but I’ll get past this emotional bump in the road and hop back on the highway to peace. The way there is rather counter-intuitive but it gets easier once you get the hang of it.

 

December 12, 2017

Don’t Worry

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:11 am

Years ago someone told me that when you say to someone, “Don’t forget…” you are actually introducing the possibility that they might. So when my wife says to me,

Don’t forget to pick up at milk at the grocery store on your way home

my brain hears

There is a possibility that you will forget to pick up milk at the grocery store on your way home

or some say that my brain possibly deletes the first word and hears

Forget to pick up at milk at the grocery store on your way home.

I’m not sure how widespread the view is that this is how the brain operates, though I certainly understand the potential and the principle. Furthermore, I’m not sure that

Remember to pick up milk at the grocery store on your way home

while it eliminates the negative, is not simply introducing the same possibility that I might not remember…

…So when I’m reminded that the Bible’s most frequent command is “Fear not;” I can certainly see how that phrase, repeated to someone in my family where anxiety runs high, might not have the soothing, calming effect the speaker intends.

As to the frequency of the command, a popular idea is that the phrase occurs 365 times in scripture; conveniently one for each day. Here’s a blog post that refutes that notion, and one that argues against trying to refute it.

The point is that even though I know positionally that “The Lord is my shepherd;” I am given to anxiety and right now, my youngest son is going through a time where fear is running high and I’m certainly empathizing with his pain.

Just telling someone not to fear may not be helpful. A hug might be much better. Or an hour in conversation. Or an activity which distracts from the cause of the anxiety.

 

October 4, 2016

Fragile Faith

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:15 am

Regular readers here may have noticed that over the past two weeks there has been in an increase in the amount of re-purposed content on the blog. We’re in a period of great stress as a family and I’ve had to prioritize keeping Christianity 201 up-to-date over providing fresh material here.

I wrote some of this five years ago. I’ve added a little extra to it today. Right now, it’s more relevant than ever…

Faith Under Pressure

I’m going through a period of intense personal pressure and finding myself wondering about the condition and authenticity of my faith in light of the anxiety I am experiencing. There, I said it. Scratch my name off your list of Christian superstars. (Whaddya mean it wasn’t there?)

My mother often quoted Jeremiah 12:5 to me at times like this:

kjv_jeremiah_12-5

In the NIV it reads,

5 “If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?

In other words, if you panic and are stressed by a little pressure, what are you going to do when something serious happens? Except things these days are particularly overwhelming me. “The swelling of the Jordan,” so to speak.

I say all this to say that it is so easy to espouse certain positional truths in scripture, but it is another matter entirely to live out those things practically when circumstances require a response. 

At times like this — and there have been many lately — I have seriously questioned the genuineness of my faith. I have come to recognize over time that everyone is dealing with something, but the nature and duration of our situation has just seemed unusually cruel. I feel like there’s some lesson I’m to learn from all this, but until I learn it, the circumstances can’t change.

It’s one thing to know all the scriptures which offer the promise of peace in the middle of the storm, but it’s another thing to actually feel that peace descend on you as you expected it would. It’s one thing to know all the verses which speak of trusting and relying on God, but it’s another thing to be able to release that burden.

In other words, we generally have all the answers — for someone else. It’s easy to straighten out someone else’s life; it’s hard to accept God’s instructions when we are the ones under pressure.

Mind you, I can’t imagine not having God to turn to.

June 21, 2016

I Must Go Down to the Sea Again

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:04 am

The Sea

When I arrived at University at age 17, I joked about filing a lawsuit against my elementary and high school board of education as compensation for all the things they never taught me. “How,” I asked anyone within earshot, “is it possible that I have arrived at this place with so many things I don’t know.”

Sometimes I feel that way about my religious education as well. I find myself years on wondering why I am hearing so many things for the first time. The background context to familiar stories. The way a passage in the NT ties in with several in the OT. The manner in which a story can be processed correctly on two different levels.

Depth. Richness. Passion. All the things that weren’t present the first time around those texts.

Like the thing about the people at the time of Christ having a phobia about the sea. It makes no sense, a large voting block of the disciples were fishermen. Boats. Water. Fish. And yet…

Knowing about the aquaphobia (fear of water) that characterized people in the times and places where scripture originates is actually helpful to understanding a number of Bible passages and narratives. R. C. Sproul writes.

The Mediterranean coast of western Palestine is marked by rocky shoals and jutting mountains. The ancient Hebrews did not develop a sea trade because the terrain was not suitable for much shipping. The sea represented trouble to them. It was from the Mediterranean that violent storms arose.

We see this contrasting imagery in Psalm 46. The psalmist writes: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling” (vv. 1–3). Then he adds, “There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God” (v. 4).

…But the Jews feared other problems from the sea besides turbulent storms. Their traditional arch-rivals, marauders who beset them countless times, were a seacoast nation. The Philistines came from the direction of the sea.

The [nation of Israel] looked forward to a new world where all the evils symbolized by the sea would be absent. The new earth will have water. It will have a river. It will have life-giving streams. But there will be no sea there.

The sea represented chaos, the earth looks forward to a restoration of order. The New Earth has a river running through it, but there is no sea…

Sunset - Mark Batterson…Why am I writing this today?

As you get older, your memory starts to contain the summation of all the various stories you’ve heard; from friends, from newspapers, from television, etc. Each of these is filed away in your mind by category, and one of those classifications would involve water accidents. Boats sinking. Drownings. Persons lost at sea.

I’m realizing that with the arrival of summer, there is a thing where Canadians want to be near a body of water. Perhaps it’s because our summer is so short, and our temperatures run to great extremes. We want to (literally) dive in and experience the heat of the sun and the cool of the lake at the same time.

But I’m also realizing that I now have a healthy respect for the water. Some friends have a pond that is spring fed and there’s a point in the middle where I can’t begin to imagine how deep it is. I find myself getting more nervous venturing out that far. I think of the ocean, but then I hear stories of rip tides, something that just wasn’t in my consciousness on the annual family trip to Miami Beach and I want to rethink my memories. I think of the Great Lakes, one of which is just blocks from my house, but I’m reminded of stories of hypothermia, and it tempers my desire to go out on boats large and small. The water represents the unknown.

Boy Afraid of the OceanIs this an age thing, or simply the result of news overload? Do we reach a point where we regress and become the little child afraid of the waves? What about the classification of healthy fears; is this one admissible? Have I become J. Alfred Prufrock from the poem by Eliot?

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

No, not hearing mermaids singing. Not so far, anyway.

But definitely at a point where pictures of the sea can be frighteningly beautiful.


Credit: The middle photograph was taken by Mark Batterson

Aquaphobia is a basic fear of water; the fear of the sea is called Thalassophobia

October 18, 2015

No Fear in Death

Filed under: Christianity, Faith — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:42 am

Today we have a guest post by Rick Apperson. Well, Rick doesn’t actually know that yet, but we’ve known each other a long time (in blog years) and have shared content before. Rick blogs at Just a Thought and is a husband, father, Salvation Army pastor and author of Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ. You could keep going here, or you could send Rick some link love by clicking here to read.

No Fear in Death

I was preaching on heaven and hell recently.  As I spoke to the congregation, I said, “We are all going to die.  In fact every breath we take is one step closer to the end.”

I was taken aback when just then a man in the service began having a seizure.  He was OK and later that week he joked about how he had that seizure at that point in the message.  He was scared in the moment but later saw the humor in it.

Google the term “fear of death” and you will get 160,000,000 results.

160 Million!

Coping, overcoming, medical labels…there is a ton of stuff on the topic.  I get the sense that quite a few people out there must be afraid of dying.  I know that over the years I’ve been one of them.

As a kid I was afraid of the dark, afraid of death and at times afraid of my own shadow!  My fear of death was not so much the death itself but the possible pain involved in getting there.  I was afraid of the suffering and misery, the long goodbye that is often associated with death. Even after I became a believer in Jesus Christ, I was worried about death.  I have had panic attacks sitting in doctors offices, heart palpitation while getting x-rays and near nervous breakdowns waiting for test results.

I admit it.  I’ve been weak at times.

I know the Bible talks about fear. I quoted 2 Timothy 1:7 and Philippians 4:6-7 until I was blue in the face.  No matter what I did, fear would only be tamped down but for a moment.

I found Proverbs 12: 25 to be true. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”  I was being weighed down by my anxiety.

Yet today, I can testify that that fear is rapidly diminishing.  I have grown more comfortable in my own mortality. Through prayer and God speaking through a friend and brother, I have been healed of that anxiety.  I know I am going to die and I am ok with it.  My eternal destination is one I long for more than dread.

My son CJ and I had a conversations about heaven recently and listening to his child like faith, I found myself longing for the day I can spend eternity with no more pain, no more suffering, no more tears.

I get excited because I am literally dying to meet Jesus!

I came across this quote while reading a Civil War history book today:

“Captain, my religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to always be ready, no matter when it may overtake me. That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.” – General “Stonewall” Jackson.

“O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Victory in Jesus!

August 29, 2013

Back to School Blues

New Church Year

In many parts of Canada, back-to-school doesn’t happen until after Labor Day. So the weekend takes on added significance…

My friend Jimmy watched from across the road as my parents off-loaded a very pale version of my younger self from the backseat. He approached the car to ask about our weekend away at a Christian conference center, but I was quickly escorted into the house, into my room and onto the bed.

People did get sick from the water sometimes — it was before the days of today’s water control standards — but my ailment was brought on entirely by the stress and anxiety of facing another school year. It arrived for several years like clockwork on the first Monday of September.

I have no idea why, and no idea how it disappeared. I know in high school there was always a nervousness about new teachers, new textbooks and new subjects; but by then I looked forward to school. Furthermore, the actual physical illness dissipated by Junior High, though there was always a little bit of trepidation.

With two kids in university, we’re still not divorced from the school start-up date as being the true New Year’s Day; and I still find myself sensing echoes of the butterflies and apprehension involved in kicking into another fall season.  In most of our churches, the ministry year kicks off in earnest in the fall; and the business I own is tied to the retail cycle, where September marks the ramp-up toward Christmas.

In some ways, I suppose it’s spiritually good and healthy to recognize when things are a little out of your control. Each portion of the life cycle brings with it enough uncertainty to know that it is God, not us who is fully in control.

Jimmy went on to become a Catholic priest. I tried to track him down, and got as far as church he had recently left, but then the trail went cold. I’m not a detective; I don’t have the resources to pursue it any further. I thought he’d like to know that we shared a common destiny of being involved in different aspects of vocational ministry.

Mysteriously, I was always well enough to attend school the next day. I never missed the first day of classes. Maybe I was becoming ill 24-hours too soon.

I know that my mostly U.S. readership lives in places where the kids have been back to class for as much as three weeks now; so be it belated, or just about right, I wish you a happy new year.

April 1, 2013

TImely Verse

Filed under: bible — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:15 am

Decided not to go with the usual April 1st post. Not the right season in my life, plus it’s the day after Easter.

Last night I was watching the online version of Cross Point Church’s Sunday service; the one where Pete Wilson takes live questions after he preaches.  He mentioned that he reads a chapter of scripture a day and is always amazed at how timely it is to whatever circumstance he is facing. Then he told a story of how God used a scripture reference in an unlikely place to meet a need in his own life.

But Pete’s sermon also had something I needed — and still need — to hear. One of those verses that arrests you in your tracks. It’s the rendering of Isaiah 26:16 in the updated NIV:

16 So this is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
will never be stricken with panic.

It’s that last phrase, which I underlined, that really got me.

The Message makes a rare use of capital letters here:

And this is the meaning of the stone:
A TRUSTING LIFE WON’T TOPPLE.

The ESV has:

‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’

The CEB:

…the one who trusts won’t tremble

The Amplified:

…he who believes (trusts in, relies on, and adheres to that Stone) will not be ashamed or give way or hasten away [in sudden panic].

The NLT:

It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on.
Whoever believes need never be shaken.

Finally, the NASB:

A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

Part of life in the modern world is the potential for fear and anxiety. This is a verse to claim for those who know what it means to panic.

I watch Pete at 7:00 PM EST Sundays at this link.

August 3, 2012

Illustrated Ray Comfort Text is a Labor of Love

2016 update: Sadly the website referenced here no longer exists.

So despite everything I wrote here yesterday about posting cartoons and comics on the blog, I’m forging ahead with this one, largely because illustrator Richard Gunther seems to actually want his material to be viewed by as many people as possible.

What you see above is actually page 16 (the middle page) of Why Trials written by Ray Comfort at the blog MightyMag.org .  You can see the panels in the correct order by following this link, or if you’d rather browse the whole blog click the first link and then scroll down to the posts for July 30thTake a few minutes to do this, you might find you want to send this to someone you know. (You can also click the image.) Or perhaps you yourself are facing trials, spiritual attacks, anxiety or simply find yourself in a ‘desert’ season in life. Click the image to read Why Trials.

Note: If a keyword search online brought you here and you’re not sure why, the post tags for today are all taken from the 32 cartoon pages. Click here to see it in its entirety.

About the artist: New Zealand writer and illustrator Richard Gunther is the author of dozens of children’s books.  He is perhaps best known for his provocative cartoons about God, the Bible and the Christian life. He provides daily cartoons for the blog site of evangelist Ray Comfort. Over the years Richard has produced a mountain of free Christian material for people to use. He has the desire to make Jesus Christ known in all the world because Jesus is the source of life.

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