Thinking Out Loud

December 6, 2018

Remembering Larry

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:44 am

Admittedly, readers here didn’t know Larry. In the paragraphs that follow I hope you get to know him. The turnout at his funeral astounded me. There were many other things I learned in that short hour. I’ll let Ruth explain.

Guest post by Ruth Wilkinson

A while ago, I posted on Facebook somewhat tongue in cheek that “It takes a village to raise a Larry.” Tuesday night, about 50 people gathered in a cozy room at the Salvation Army to say goodbye to Larry, a man I met when we were having weekly dinners at Greenwood Motel.

Larry was a pain in the neck. Messy, noisy, always drunk. He’d sit in his favourite seat nearest the buffet table and loudly hector other diners to the point where they’d lose their temper, and then he’d laugh. Every week he’d holler at me across the room to bring him a cup of juice, which I’d do. Every week he’d holler his thanks to everyone who’d brought the meal as he headed out the door. He couldn’t remember everyone’s name so he called us “Ruth and all you Ruths.”

But Larry loved Connie, and when she was hit by a truck while walking drunk across the road, it shook him loose from the bottle. He joined AA and did me the honor of inviting me to the meeting when he received his one year chip, and of acknowledging me in his speech as one who, in some way, contributed to that moment. That was cool.

Many of the people who gathered that evening were folks from around town, or from AA, or from one of 5 or 6 different churches whose phone numbers Larry had collected over the years. We’d all take our turn getting phone calls at odd hours, “Hey, it’s Larry. Could you give me a ride to…” wherever. The grocery store, the eye doctor, the sub shop, the bank, the hospital, to Connie’s house. And we all sometimes said yes and sometimes said no. He’d just say, “OK, well, thanks. That’s ok. God bless, eh?” And try someone else.

I remember driving him home from the hospital during a blizzard the first time he’d been in for some really serious respiratory problems. Pushing him down the hall and into the elevator with one hand and pulling the oxygen tank with the other. Getting him through the snow in his slippers from the chair to the car. Skidding a few times as we drove. Then out of the car, through the snow and up a full flight of stairs to his room in a run down house. With him thanking me and thanking me and thanking me.

His health got worse and worse over the last few years and he’d wake up in the middle of the night unable to breathe. Terrified of dying. People who knew him would reassure him that Jesus loved him and that because he’d prayed and asked Jesus to be his Saviour, he’d go to Heaven when he died. And he’d say, “Yeah, that’s right.” But as one speaker said, “Maybe he was afraid to die because he didn’t know whether he’d done enough to matter to anyone.”

He lost and regained his one year chip a few times over the years, but he never gave up. And the more he tried, the more we loved him. The more he mattered.

So I was glad, but not surprised, to see such a good turnout for his memorial on Tuesday. Connie hadn’t been sure how many would come, but she needn’t have worried. He’d built around himself a community of friends and supporters and even a few admirers who wanted to say goodbye.

Because maybe, sometimes, it takes a Larry to raise a village.

Advertisements

November 15, 2018

This is For All the Lonely People

Lorne Anderson is a Canadian living in Germany. This appeared on his blog earlier today.

Lonely People

Guest post by Lorne Anderson

As an introvert, I try my best not to overload on people contact. I need space and solitude.

I’ve come to the realization that is one of the reasons why learning German is difficult for me. It is not just that the language is hard, but I was also thrown into a classroom with a bunch of people I didn’t know and expected to interact. Tough to withdraw into your shell in a such a situation.

Despite my preferences, I understand the need for human contact. Living a solitary life isn’t healthy, no matter how appealing it is. When my wife wants to invite someone over, I usually agree. And enjoy myself.

I am introverted, but not shy. I have no difficulty standing on a platform speaking to thousands of people at a concert, as I have had to do from time to time in my radio career. But that is something that comes with the job, not out of my desires.

Most people, I think, crave human interaction far more than I do. And with the social changes of the past 50 years or so, people are getting far less of that interaction than they want or need. As a result, many people are lonely.

I suppose it was inevitable that government would step in to deal with the loneliness problem. The United Kingdom now has a Minister of Loneliness. I seem to recall hearing that other jurisdictions are introducing similar positions. To say I have mixed feelings about that is an understatement.

I applaud that the problem has been recognized, while at the same time decrying the solution. I don’t believe government has the answers to our problems; nor do I believe government is my friend. I’ve worked in politics; if I was lonely it wouldn’t be politicians I was turning to for companionship.

Dealing with loneliness may become one of the central issues of our time. We live in a world where it is increasing possible to be always connected to others through social media. In theory people should not feel lonely, surrounded as we are by so many others.

Yet social media does not bring with it intimacy. It may indeed discourage it. Your posts are there for the world to see. It makes sense therefore to hold back some of yourself rather than let your personality show, warts and all. After all, others may be judging you. Better to put your best face forward. But is your best face your real face? Do you trust people with the real you? And if not, does that holding back take a toll, isolating you and increasing the chances of being lonely. Just because there are always people around doesn’t mean that you have anything deeper than a superficial relationship.

Which is why I doubt that having a Minister of Loneliness can have positive effects, aside from providing jobs for some otherwise unemployable social science graduates (full disclosure – I am a social science graduate.).  Government no matter how well-meaning, isn’t going to find friends for me, or anyone else who needs them. If it tries, I suspect it would fail – despite data mining, it doesn’t know me that well.

At this point I could make some theological observations about human nature and being created in God’s image, which would be relevant but would also make this post longer than it should be. So, I’ll hold back on that thought, maybe for another day.

One basic observation though. I wonder if the cure for loneliness starts with cutting back on or even eliminating electronic communications? Maybe we would be less lonely as a society if we spent more time fact to face and less time face to screen.

It couldn’t be that easy, could it?

 

July 17, 2018

Longing for Connection

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:44 am

Have you ever done this?

You’re a zillion miles from home and you’re walking through a mall or a downtown street and you’ve got your radar on to see if you see anyone you know.

You don’t know anyone.

It’s a given.

(Well, extremely unlikely.)

But you keep scanning anyway.

Just in case.

We’re human.

We’re social.

We long for connection to other people.

We’re wired that way.

Most of us.

December 21, 2017

Merry Little Christmas

Earlier this year, my wife and I participated in a Christian Christmas short story contest writing two stories each. The competition was tough. This story is actually part of a series of stories she wrote featuring the same characters. We’re sharing all four of our stories here; this is the second.

by Ruth Wilkinson

This was Tony’s first Christmas on his own for, well, ever, really. First with his parents, then with Meg, then Meg and Shane. Last year, with Meg moved out, Shane had been with him, then off to his mom for New Year’s.

So this was Tony’s first real single guy Christmas and he wasn’t going to let it suck. He was going to decorate and play the tunes. Eat tourtiere, eggnog, and nanaimo bars. And not feel sorry for himself.

Christmas Eve was going to be OK. He’d found a sign-up sheet on the bulletin board at work for a charity hockey game. One of those 24 hour things to raise money for the hospital. A few guys had already signed on, and Tony thought it sounded fun. He hadn’t played in a few years but he hadn’t been bad in his day.

Over coffee he told Walt all about it. Walt had become a good friend since the winter when Shane had set out to make money shovelling driveways and ended up adopting him and Esther as extra grandparents.

Walt smiled and said, “Sounds like fun!” Then, more seriously, “Now what about Christmas Day? You’re on your own?”

Tony shrugged. “Looks like it. No plans, exactly.”

“Same here. Let’s get together! Christmas dinner!”

“Great! I didn’t know you could cook.”

“I can’t. I was hoping you could.”

Having established that neither of them knew one end of a turkey baster from the other, Walt asked around. He found out about a church downtown having a turkey dinner on Christmas day that was open to everybody, especially the homeless. He was excited. Tony less so.

Oh, well. If nothing else, it would be an adventure. And, Tony thought, I won’t be in any danger of feeling sorry for myself.

He wondered what to wear. Seemed like you should dress up for Christmas dinner, but in the basement of a downtown church where most of the diners would be homeless or slightly better off?

Walt would wear the same thing he always wore. Shiny black shoes, neatly pressed trousers with a matching suit jacket, a snappy fedora and, of course, a tie. Walt had the most amazing tie collection. Dozens of them. Some spectacularly “vintage.” He’d told Tony that he’d kept buying them over his years of wearing priestly black with dog collar. He just kept buying ties, promising Esther that someday, he’d wear them. Every single one. She’d just laugh. His favourite sound. Gone now.

Aside from the occasional hideous cravat, Walt was sharp, neat, respectable. Not a wrinkle, not a speck of lint. Tony had never known such a tidy person. He was kind of looking forward to seeing Walt surrounded by rumpled street dwellers.

❄❄❄

The Saturday before the big day, Tony launched an expedition into the crawlspace under the basement stairs. It was amazing how much stuff was crammed in there and even more amazing how all the stuff you wanted was behind and under all the stuff you weren’t looking for.

He ploughed through the foothills of disco albums and old clothes only to get lost in the forest of yearbooks and hockey equipment (there it was!) He waded knee deep through Shane’s toys, ages 1 through 9 — no mean feat, bent over at the waist — to get to the Christmas decorations in the far back corner. Crouching in the dust and cobwebs, looking back across the great landscape he’d just traversed, imagining the return journey with each of 4 boxes, his enthusiasm faded a bit.

Buck up, Tony, lad, he thought, You’ve come this far…

Soon enough it was all out and it only took a few minutes to make his spine the right shape again.

He decided it would be tree first, outdoor lights second, and finally the creche. Start with the worst, end with the easiest. He hated putting up the tree.

It was the one he and Meg had bought when they got married. Ugly as dirt. Kind of green — sort of an army tank colour. There were some nice ones now that almost looked real. This one had no such pretensions. It was wire and plastic, all bent in strange directions from sitting in the box for 11 ½ months. Dozens of assorted bits that had to be laid out on the floor and sorted by size so your tree didn’t come together upside down or worse.

But it was his and he loved it. Or maybe he just had no intention of shelling out for a new one. Maybe a bit of both. Sentiment is not always a pure thing.

He put on a few really good Christmas albums — Cockburn, Guaraldi, Motown, Cash — and a couple of hours, half a pound of shortbread and one beer later he had an honest to goodness Christmas tree.

By then it was dark – no time to go out and hang lights, so he dug out the creche: a little stable kind of thing, a ceramic donkey, a couple of sheep. Three wisemen, two shepherds, an angel. A little manger and a baby that fit in it. Mary, dressed in light blue. Joseph. A carpenter. Like Tony.

He held Joseph in his hand for a minute. Picked up his drink. Took a sip. Sat down.

He’d never noticed the look on Joseph’s face before. He looked a little stunned.

Tony smiled. Yeah, well, you probably were, mate. Stunned.

Thought you were going to marry a pretty girl, settle down, build things, have a family. Probably had a nice workshop at home, full of tools, a few unfinished projects waiting until you got back. Back from a trip to someplace you didn’t want to go. A trip that wasn’t nearly over yet.

Doing the right thing. What you were told to do. Being faithful. Being brave. Protecting and providing. Looking after a kid that wasn’t even yours. Because it was right.

An ordinary man doing ordinary work. But it was what God had told him to do. God had gone to a lot of trouble to tell this ordinary man to just keep doing the ordinary right thing. Don’t be afraid, be true, look after your family.

God had told him to do that.

Such a small thing, but it mattered. A lot.

Just a little family. That changed the world.

❄❄❄

Christmas Eve.

The game was about half over. They’d started at 8 that morning. They’d finish at 8 tomorrow. The stands were surprisingly full. Tony had his old skates and new sticks and he was having fun. This was a good day.

He was sitting in the box when he heard a voice behind him.

“Hey, dad! Dad!”

He looked over his shoulder. There was Shane, halfway up the stands. He was standing beside Walt and — oh. Meg.

Shane and Walt were wearing big foam hats with ‘TONY’ painted on them and big foam fingers that they waggled at him, and red rubber noses, grinning like idiots, each wearing three of the ugliest ties ever to see daylight, two straight and one bow.

Meg sat and looked bored.

He grinned and waved. Shane and Walt waved back. Meg made a gesture that was half wave, half checking her watch. Tony wondered whether she’d practised that move in front of a mirror and got annoyed. He thought, She didn’t have to come.

And checked himself. No, she really didn’t have to come…

Shane shouted, “Score any goals?”

Tony nodded, took off a glove and held up 3 fingers. He’d got lucky. Then he was back on the ice.

Waiting for the puck to drop, one of the guys asked him, “That your family?”

Tony glanced over at his son, the old man he was just getting to know, and his ex-wife. He took a deep breath and said, “Yeah, that’s my family.”

And he laughed and wondered whether he looked stunned.

He’d take time later to ask God for help — help to do the right, ordinary thing.

He was kind of busy right now.

September 8, 2017

A Group Exercise in Transparency

In what will soon be ten years of blogging, I’ve been privileged to meet a number of other online writers, but only on rare occasions have those meetings been in-person. Diane Lindstrom is one of those exceptions. Although my wife and I don’t have grandchildren yet — note to the boys if you’re reading this — Diane’s Nice One, Nana web-page really resonates with me, plus she often finds some great Christian music videos that others have missed.

I was reading this item on my phone on Thursday night and immediately ran down to my desktop to email a request to use it here, which she kindly granted. Clicking the title below will get you there directly.


Thorn, Rose and Bud Exercise

The painting, “Rose of Thorns” by Feyi K. Okwudibonye is available for purchase in multiple media at Fine Art America. Click image to link.

Here’s a wonderful idea.

Recently, my husband and I spent the evening at a friend’s cottage. When dinner was over, my friend announced to everyone at the table, “Time to talk about our thorns and roses. Who wants to go first?” 

And the conversation was fascinating. I had never heard of this mindfulness exercise.

First, the thorn (pain points) – doesn’t have to be anything “bad”. It could be an opportunity you missed taking that day, some mistake you made or an uncomfortable feeling that you experienced. I shared about a big batch of freshly made peanut butter cookies having been burned that morning and I indirectly blamed Chris for it. Someone else shared that he got splashed in the canoe and it wasn’t very comfortable being wet for the remainder of the paddling time.

Second, the rose (bright spots) – doesn’t have to be some huge event. The rose can be the simplest pleasure, a moment of delight, a sense of accomplishment or a kindness given or received. I distinctly remember climbing into the motor boat and heading to the cottage that afternoon. It was such a delightful moment that I spread my arms out wide and yelled out loud, “Yahoo!” Definitely a rose moment. For someone else, it was the delicious dinner made that night.

What a wonderful experience for everyone at that dinner table. The two young boys were as captivated by everyone’s comments as the adults. We all listened well and learned much about each other.

Apparently, there’s another part of this experience that could be used either after the evening meal or after breakfast. Everyone can share their “bud” (potential) – that is, their hope for the day ahead.

What a great way to debrief the day, hear from everyone involved and feel connected as a family or group.

By reflecting on the highlights and low points of the day, you start to realize that:

  • there are always things to be grateful for
  • sometimes, things don’t go according to plan and that’s OK.
  • there are events you can and cannot control. The true wisdom lies in knowing the difference and taking action on those things you CAN control.
  • there is always room for improvement.
  • you can model mindfulness and care for others to younger people who participate so that self reflection becomes more natural.
  • you can practice active listening to and empathy for others’ stories.

Try it!


Diane Lindstrom is the author of Sisters in the Son: Reconnecting Older and Younger Women

September 4, 2015

Friendships Come and Friendships Go

friendshipsIt is said that one of the finest blessings you can experience is to have one friendship that lasts a lifetime. I’m not sure if the writer had your spouse in mind, but I believe that was not the context, which is better since it allows singles, separateds and divorced to play the home version of the game.

In reality however, many friendships last for only a season. In Christian ministry, some turn out to be task oriented. As long as you continue to manage the church nursery, play the guitar or be a youth group sponsor, you’re in. Step down from those positions and watch your social life die. My wife and I have experienced this over and over.

Some friendships are geographically based. Move away and promise to keep in touch and you’ll find it’s a promise that doesn’t always get kept. You’ve been told absence makes the heart grow fonder? Try out of sight, out of mind. You might hear the classic, ‘I think I accidentally blocked you on Facebook.’

But some simply die out. Again, because this is a Christian writing platform, I want to deal with a few that have a church or ministry context:

  • You’ve been a mentor to a person who is growing spiritually by leaps and bounds and you’ve reached that stage where the student has surpassed the teacher. They are now acutely aware of inconsistencies in your life and thus disillusioned, find it best to dump you.

or

  • You came alongside someone at a particularly low point in their life, but now that they are back on their feet, their renewed personality makes them attractive to other people and they receive attention from a far greater pool of people in the church family.

or

  • You taught Sunday School with someone for years but decided in the Spring that you’d like to audition for the worship team. You made it in, but now that person has distanced themselves from you.

or

  • Your friend is part of a church culture that feeds on new blood, and some people have arrived on the scene that are simply more interesting that you are.

or finally,

  • You yourself have been at a particularly low point in life. It may be spiritual, or it may be circumstantial, but now your ‘friend’ just doesn’t want to have to prop you up during a time of challenge.

There’s also a dynamic that takes place in churches — and in life in general — that reflects the nature of the people being unfriended. Some people are simply gregarious. We don’t use that word much today, instead we talk about extroverts. Others are introverts and much has been written about how church culture can mitigate against such people (but also about how they can thrive just the same.)

Example:

  • Dan is a single dad with ties to people in the Men’s group. So is Bruce. But Bruce has six really close relationships to other guys in the group — going to sports events, working on model planes and drones, playing in pick-up bands, etc. — while Dan is really just friends with Bruce. So when Bruce and Dan start to connect on fewer occasions, it still leaves Bruce with five really close friendships, but leaves Dan with none.

And then there is the “couples complication.” Remember the line from Frasier? “When you get the one, you get the other one.”

  • Jennifer and Mark are good friends with Wanda and Jason. Dinners, shopping trips, and watching each others kids when one couple wants a night out. But then Mark gets into a major fight with Jason. Suddenly, Jennifer and Wanda have fewer contexts to connect.

or

  • Rob and Jocelyn are longtime friends of Ben and Katie. But now Ben and Katie have decided to migrate over to the new church plant that’s meeting at the high school. Nothing can kill a friendship as what happens when someone leaves a church.

So…relationships are complex and church life probably complicates this even further. What can you do?

When circumstances change, you need to work twice as hard to nurture the relationship. You also need to be aware of the vulnerability of the relationship during times of change.

Personally, I believe that if superficial circumstances are all it takes to fracture a relationship, it was never there in the first place.

March 5, 2015

Bicycles, Mental Health, and Life at Our House

The secret algorithm of repeated articles on this blog is that every new month I give myself permission to re-post items that appeared in the same month. Usually I go back several years, but if I feel something was important it might get reused as soon as 12 months later. This particular article represented some major stuff we were dealing with at this time a year ago… Today I’m happy to report that for the most part, things resolved and we’ve moved on.


More than a dozen years ago, we woke up one morning to discover a pair of children’s bicycles had been left at the foot of our driveway. After giving the kids 24-hours to retrieve them, we realized they were probably stolen, and since the municipal police here deal with stolen bikes — and twice-yearly auction off unclaimed ones — we told them to come and get them.

When the officer arrived, he started asking questions; a lot of questions as it turned out. I know that in a criminal investigation, everyone should be considered a possible suspect, but the absurdity of proposing that a community leader with no previous record should suddenly steal children’s bicycles and call the police about it was more than I could bear.

“You think I stole the bikes?” I asked him.

“Well, we don’t know;” he replied.

To the best of my knowledge, this is a cold case. For all I know my name is in a file somewhere under “suspected bike thieves.”

=O=O=

Two weeks ago my son found himself in a very difficult situation. He was trying to help someone who clearly was experiencing some behavioral, psychological issues. That’s really all I need to say about it. At the same time however, he realized how little he could do to help, which was draining him physically and emotionally, and as parents, we decided to step in and help him escalate awareness of the situation to a point where there would be some resolution.

sometimes helping hurtsBut in the days that followed, the issue became less about the other student at the university, and more about my son and his response to it. I think that, not realizing the severity of the toll it was taking on my son, they felt he should have just ‘rolled with the punches’ or ‘risen above the circumstances’ or in some other way not be defeated by what has taking place.

While there’s some universal truth to that principle, I realized, in the course of a 40-minute phone call from the university administration that they felt that he stole the bicycles, so to speak, and today, their perception of the true problem probably has less to do with the problems the other student faces, and more about my son’s reaction.

=O=O=

I haven’t read it, but there’s a book out called When Helping Hurts. Putting yourself in the middle of a situation — or having no choice — is always difficult, and sometimes the other person experiences complete recovery but you now bear the battle scars. I can’t promise you that nobody is going to leave bicycles on your lawn or cross your path with psychological problems, but I can almost guarantee that someday you’ll find yourself caught up in a issue not of your own making, and have to reap the consequences of your involvement. It happens

=O=O=

There’s a rule in writing this kind of essay that you don’t suddenly introduce another analogy at the end, but I couldn’t help but add that my wife likened my son’s experience to a man who goes out into the river to save his dog, only to drown himself.

Sometimes the weight of personal or social or corporate responsibility pulls you under.

February 15, 2014

On Bicycles and Mental Health

More than a dozen years ago, we woke up one morning to discover a pair of children’s bicycles had been left at the foot of our driveway. After giving the kids 24-hours to retrieve them, we realized they were probably stolen, and since the municipal police here deal with stolen bikes — and twice-yearly auction off unclaimed ones — we told them to come and get them.

When the officer arrived, he started asking questions; a lot of questions as it turned out. I know that in a criminal investigation, everyone should be considered a possible suspect, but the absurdity of proposing that a community leader with no previous record should suddenly steal children’s bicycles and call the police about it was more than I could bear.

“You think I stole the bikes?” I asked him.

“Well, we don’t know;” he replied.

To the best of my knowledge, this is a cold case. For all I know my name is in a file somewhere under “suspected bike thieves.”

=O=O=

Two weeks ago my son found himself in a very difficult situation. He was trying to help someone who clearly was experiencing some behavioral issues. That’s really all I need to say about it. At the same time however, he realized how little he could do to help, which was draining him physically and emotionally, and as parents, we decided to step in and help him escalate awareness of the situation to a point where there would be some resolution.

sometimes helping hurtsBut in the days that followed, the issue became less about the other student at the university, and more about my son and his response to it. I think that, not realizing the severity of the toll it was taking on my son, they felt he should have just ‘rolled with the punches’ or ‘risen above the circumstances’ or in some other way not be defeated by what has taking place.

While there’s some universal truth to that principle, I realized, in the course of a 40-minute phone call from the university administration that they felt that he stole the bicycles, so to speak, and today, their perception of the true problem probably has less to do with the problems the other student faces, and more about my son’s reaction.

=O=O=

I haven’t read it, but there’s a book out called When Helping Hurts. Putting yourself in the middle of a situation — or having no choice — is always difficult, and sometimes the other person experiences complete recovery but you now bear the battle scars. I can’t promise you that nobody is going to leave bicycles on your lawn or cross your path with psychological problems, but I can almost guarantee that someday you’ll find yourself caught up in a issue not of your own making, and have to reap the consequences of your involvement. It happens

=O=O=

There’s a rule in writing this kind of essay that you don’t suddenly introduce another analogy at the end, but I couldn’t help but add that my wife likened my son’s experience to a man who goes out into the river to save his dog, only to drown himself.

Sometimes the weight of personal or social or corporate responsibility pulls you under.

July 4, 2012

Wednesday Link List

From the Sojourners Magazine slide show and report on the Wild Goose Festival


With an over 70% U.S. readership, I don’t have a lot of high hopes for record high stats on the 4th of July, but here goes anyway.  Lots of Wild Goose Festival coverage here, too.  If you’d like more links, there was a Weekend Link List here on Saturday.

  • So why does Mark’s gospel begin with a quote attributed to Isaiah when it’s actually taken from the book of Malachi?
  • Small-town pastor Chuck Warnock did a graduation address to a Christian high school that’s worth reading in full, but if you can’t take the time, at least check out The Monkey Experiment illustration.
  • Author Cathleen Falsani (Belieber) goes off the grid (not by choice) at the Wild Goose Festival and then comes back on the grid (via Sojourners) to share her experiences.  “The revolution is not dead.”
  • Speaker Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove reflects on the festival, an event he sees in a long line of camp meeting culture.
  • He was the only explicitly non-religious speaker invited to the Wild Goose Festival.  Bryan Parys travels with Chris Stedman.
  • Ian reflects on the theologically relaxed atmosphere, while a Unitarian Universalist fills us in on the LGBTQ issues that were raised, and more details on the music.  There are many more reports — use Google Blog Search — to help you get the picture…
  • Have your say: It’s Open Forum Week at Internet Monk.
    • Monday: Open Forum for Pastors
    • Tuesday: Open Forum for Readers around the World
    • Wednesday: Open Forum on America (Independence Day Special)
    • Thursday: Open Forum for Mission Workers
    • Friday: Open Forum for Bloggers and Writers
  • Thomas Kinkade’s wife and Thomas Kinkade’s girlfriend are in a battle over the artist’s fortune.  (There’s one of his works in one out of every twenty homes in the U.S.) Sixty-six million is at stake.
  • Apparently Church Executive magazine — it’s usually racked next to Newsweek — thinks the new generation of pastors isn’t speaking out on national issues. As one of those mentioned, Pete Wilson responds.
  • Randy Alcorn has a three-in-one post with an update on Steve Saint, a discussion of the problem of men not being readers, and a related reblog of a Russell Moore piece on men and online addictions.
  • Author Timothy Paul Jones fills us in a little on some of the books that did not make it into our New Testament.
  • Brave New World Department: The first genetically modified humans have been born. Yes. Only in America.
  • A Christian writer gives a thoughtful and thorough review of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, albeit with a few spoilers.
  • Okay, we do have a link that’s tied to the 4th of July: Chad Hall looks what happens when patriotism comes to church. “Conservative Christians rightly resist religious syncretism …but we fail to see that equal and greater harm comes from the syncretism of Christianity and nationalism.”
  • Medical Complications Department: “The medicine he had to take as a child to fight his cancer had eventually caused his heart to wear out… he had to have a heart transplant…[years later]…the medications Chuck had to take to maintain his new heart had given him cancer.” Read J.’s tribute to his friend.
  • Dan Kimball has a new book and a new website coming. Here’s the 411 on his new project: Adventures in Churchland.
  • And Mike Breen (Lifeshapes) has a new blog. A good place to learn more about what he and 3DM is doing with church-planters is to start with this 5-minute video.
  • Website Discovery of the Week: HarvestUSA — Proclaiming Christ as Lord to a Sexually Broken World.
  • Mark Sandlin explains why he, a pastor, is taking three months off from attending church.  “I want to understand what it is that the ‘spiritual but not religious’ like about not being in church AND I want to understand what I, a life long churchgoer, miss about not being in church.”
  • It’s been a year since we introduced you to Aimee Byrd, Housewife Theologian who is still blogging regularly and living proof that not all radical Calvinists are male. (Hence, no specific link here.)
  • Yes, I know just about everybody else has blogged this by now…but here’s the bacon graphic… Everyday Theology had the best intro: “If you live in 17th century Holland, it’s fine to summarize your theology using flowers. But in 21st century America, we prefer our theology a little meatier, and saltier, and greasier. So forget the five points of TULIP, here is the new creed for the Five Strip Baconist!”

May 18, 2010

Community: At Church versus Online

This first appeared here a year ago, but for new readers, I thought it was worth a second look.

If your background is mainline

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “the passing of the peace.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake (or in a few places, a “holy” kiss) and say, “The peace of Christ,” or “The peace of Christ be with you.” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “And to you also;” or “And to you also, the peace of Christ.” If the church is smaller, you know these people, at least by name, but if it’s larger or it’s tourist season, you may not know them at all.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the pancake breakfast and the strawberry tea held each year.

To get to know people a little deeper, or other people, you can join the choir, or volunteer for a host of guilds or committees that are always in need of help. You’ll also find a lot of the same people serve on civic projects and thereby will run into them in other contexts outside of the church itself. Don’t expect to break into the core community until you’re a “regular,” which occurs after you’ve attended and been involved for a gazillion years.

If your background is Evangelical

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “greeting” or it may be formalized as “the ritual of friendship.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake and say, “Good Morning;” or “Did you happen to catch the game yesterday?” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “Is that a new car I saw in the parking lot?” If the church is smaller, you might know these people, at least by name, or if it’s a mid-sized church, you can look them up in the photo directory when you get home.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the annual potluck lunch and the annual bowling night.

To get to know people a little deeper, there isn’t a lot to volunteer for, since everything is done by the paid staff. The mens’ and womens’ retreats would help, but that’s $120 and $130 respectively. Better to join a small group. That way you’ll get to spend time in at least one person’s house each week, and get to know them and about four other families (or eight other singles) more intimately.

If your option is blogging community

There is a possibility that there will be people in your fellowship who you do not have any idea what they look like, or exactly where they live. However, you don’t have to wait for an opportunity to engage conversationally. Those opportunities occur at any time and may produce a variety of responses from a variety of people.

Through those conversations you will learn about their likes and dislikes, events in the life of their family, where they stand on a variety of issues, and what challenges and needs they face. You’ll possibly learn the names of — or see pictures of — their kids or their parents, be given insights into their job, and you’ll almost certainly know a little about every book they’ve read since they started blogging. And they’ll know the same about you.

You may find very quickly that their prayer requests become your prayer requests; you feel drawn to the needs of these people as one might with someone in their church family. If Twitter enters into the picture, you’ll know even more about their daily routine, the various thoughts and challenges that burst into the brain brought about by various stimuli. And if you Twitter, they’ll have that input from you also.

Plus, they will introduce you to their online friends, and you might pick a few of those to subscribe to or at least bookmark, and over time, perhaps their friends will become your friends also. It’s not unusual to pick up e-mail addresses from comments you’ve received and send out some off-the-blog messages. (In fact, two weeks ago, I sent out about 60 such e-mails about a project I wanted to get going that needed an off-the-blog start-up.)

Finally, if you want to get really hardcore, you might find yourself contemplating attending a bloggers event which sometimes take place in conjunction with other events, and at other times are stand-alone events. Not because online fellowship is insufficient, but simply because the relationships are already well established. (And nobody’s pretending to be a 17-year old girl from Ohio; at least I hope not!)

So at the end of the day, online community isn’t better or worse than Sunday church fellowship; it’s just different. And I would argue it’s a good different. One can’t entirely substitute for the other, and hopefully people using online community as a surrogate for a physical community that is currently absent from their life would, over time, find themselves drawn back to something resembling a church or house church; and then maintain a balance between the two relational paradigms.

A year later, I’m convinced that one of the problems in the Body of Christ is that we truly don’t know each other. You can attend a megachurch and be in a crowd of thousands yet feel completely alone. There is a desire to know others and be known. Or, as the theme from Cheers reminds us, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name / And they’re always glad you came.”

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.