Thinking Out Loud

July 18, 2017

Mingling with the Wealthy

Filed under: Christianity, personal — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:01 am

River Cruise ships are quite different from ocean liners. The long rectangular design would fit well with Ken Ham’s vision of Noah’s Ark. This was home for seven nights. We were on the middle level. The weather never started getting rough and the tiny ship was not tossed, in fact it moved seamlessly through the course of the river.

Before I get into some of the previously mentioned titles in a series of posts about our first mega vacation, I want to address the elephant in the room: The price of such a trip.

We were in some respects out of our league here. First of all, most of the people on the trip were veterans at cruising; both in terms of river cruises and ocean-liner cruises. We were complete newbies. Secondly, although the “formal” dress code in effect for the evening meal was not strictly followed by everyone to the letter, clearly my wife and I do not shop in high end establishments.

For one meal, I decided to wear a tie, since I had brought two with me. I certainly remembered how to tie it, but it felt awkward, like Saul’s armor. In our little town, about an hour’s drive east of Toronto, there is a saying that if you see a man in a suit, that’s the Funeral Director. Church is casual. Our pastor and his two sons were leaving for Africa on Sunday and as they commissioned them in prayer, I saw two guys onstage wearing shorts. It is in that type of dress code I am more comfortable. For the last year, I have worked with a dress shirt that is not tucked in. Frankly, it makes more sense for the physical requirements of the average day. I am not at home in a tie, or a belt, or clothing in general. Local bylaws do not favor any expression of the latter condition, however.

The other thing is that I am not fully comfortable in any fine dining situation that runs 2¼ hours long. While I think we both quickly adapted, the wait staff could be quite intimidating if you’re not accustomed to pampering. At least at breakfast and lunch there was a buffet format. Oh, and as an aside, I might not always know which knife to use with the fillet, but I do know if a knife hasn’t been washed properly. But one hates to nitpick.

The other thing that is always awkward in our lives is dealing with the question, “What line of work are you in?” Yikes! I don’t even know the answer to that myself. It was gratifying a couple of times to be able to say in all truthfulness that my wife co-founded a non-profit that works with the economically disadvantaged. However, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that for decades we’ve been economically disadvantaged ourselves.

A few times I mentioned that we “once owned a chain of bookstores and now are down to a single location.” That’s absolutely true. And I said I was a writer. Also true. But I also mentioned “ministry” and “working with churches” and “Christian publishing” to more than a few people. More on that in a future article.

And then there was the guy the very first day who summed up our situation with, “You’re here on an inheritance.” Well, yes in a way, but we also managed my mom’s finances for 13 years after my father died without receiving any compensation for doing so, nor having access to any of the funds. Some of the investments we picked for her performed well, and I have no qualms about spending some of that interest income. (Full disclosure: My mother paid my wife $200 a year for doing this. 200 Canadian dollars.)

So perhaps everybody knew we were fish out of water, and perhaps we were even the subject of some conversations. I don’t really care. At least we didn’t show up in the dining room in slippers, as one person did; nor were we rude in saying “These seats are saved” when we wanted to sit with someone who, as it turned out, wasn’t saving the seats for anyone. (I avoided the phrase, “What am I? Chopped liver?”) I got the feeling that among some of our fellow-travelers, there was a certain sense of entitlement.

So we mingled with the rich and with those spending an inheritance and with those whose how-they-got-there stories we’ll never know.

We thanked God that we got to have such an experience. Even when there were times I wondered if we really belonged.

Attending a classical music concert is something with which I do in fact have considerable familiarity. This one at the Palais Liechtenstein featured orchestral and operatic music as well as ballet. We were on the front row, which means Ruth came extremely close to being drafted for the waltz demonstration.

 

 

 

July 16, 2017

We’re Back from Europe

We are back from eleven days in Europe

In the early days of my reading faith-focused blogs — approximately 2005 to 2009 — I was often disappointed to turn to some of my favorite writers only to learn they had taken the day to talk about their latest vacation. This occurred at a time when even an out-of-state (or province in our case) trip would have been impossible. Over the years there have been four significant factors preventing us from going anywhere. In order:

  • Raising children, including one who would have been considered special needs at the time.
  • My health; though we did take some road trips.
  • Economics, especially in the sense of affording air travel.
  • My parents health which perhaps wasn’t always as much a barrier as we thought, but certainly did require us to be in daily contact, which would have complicated an overseas holiday.

So when the opportunity to catch up arose, we selected a package which took us to Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. We also passed through Slovakia which I later got to visit more closely while Ruth took a different side trip.

I knew nothing of these countries prior to leaving and did not have time to do much research. I probably could have pointed to Germany on a map and said something about wiener schnitzel, polka music and beer. (For the record, I don’t remember hearing an accordion and my beer consumption consisted of splitting one with my wife on the last day of the trip.)

As familiar as sightseeing destinations are in Paris and England and Rome, the recent terrorist activity in the first two doesn’t lend itself to worry-free touring. (I’ll grant that Germany has not escaped such events.) So we chose this particular set of countries. They were different. They were unknown. They were a nine-hour flight away.

The trip was certainly eye-opening. As I sit typing this at 5:45 in the morning — my body confused by the six hour time difference — I am reminded particularly of our reaction the first day to the historical sections of Budapest on our first full day, and our first glimpse of the old town of Prague last Wednesday. It was surreal.

We were there. It wasn’t a movie set. We saw it. We felt the bricks. We walked on the cobblestones. We pinched ourselves a few times to make sure it wasn’t a dream.

In North America, generally speaking nothing old is older than the late 1700s. Our old buildings are mostly mid-to-late 1800s. In Europe, tour guides speak of a structure saying, “this was erected in the year 921” as casually as they are reminding you not to leave personal belongings on the bus. “…And the one on the left was built in the 1100s.”

Europe is also all about cathedrals. Our last tour director — the trip was in two stages — told us that many travelers reach a the ABC stage, meaning “Another bloody castle.” But they might also say, “Another bloody cathedral.” You know your brain is saturated when, knowing the ornateness and beauty that awaits inside, you pass by because you are simply cathedraled-out.

But it does offer the opportunity to consider a number of faith-focused things. Tomorrow we’ll look at the emergence of a new group of conservative Christians in Germany, and then move on to look at

  • The very not-seeker-sensitive synagogue district in Prague
  • Resenting the church’s wealth
  • Church funding in Germany
  • Meeting people who grew up Godless

and other topics as I think of them and go through our pictures.

So that’s the line-up for this week, plus hopefully a return of the link list on Wednesday.

If you don’t want to hear about someone’s holiday excursion when having one of your own seems remote right now, please understand I totally get that.



The Eugene Peterson Thing

On the last few days of our trip an interview Religion News’ Jonathan Merritt did with Eugene Peterson blew up into a major tempest and then within 24 hours, as quickly as it had begun, the gale subsided. We’ll obviously be focused on other things this week, but here’s a 7:00 AM Sunday morning update from Religion News in case you missed it:

  • Jonathan Merritt’s column was actually the third in a series of Q&As with the author. | Read the story
  • Merritt’s question to Peterson was by no means unfounded, especially given what he said in this 2014 video. | Read the story
  • Our summer intern Madeleine Buckley looked at other prominent Christians who’ve had a change of heart on LGBT issues. | Read the story
  • Commentator Jacob Lupfer says the controversy shows that Peterson is exactly where most non-mainline Christians are — “confused, conflicted, and torn between fidelity to beliefs … and compassion for people they know and love.” | Read the story

Note: I thought what Peterson said about engaging in hypotheticals in interviews like this was brilliant; it’s hard for a pastor to answer a question which begins if there was a gay couple and if they were Christians and if they asked you to marry them…

February 17, 2017

We’re Back!

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:12 am

hotel

For a number of reasons, the vacation we just returned from represented our first time on an airplane in 28 years. Money, kids, health, work, money, sandwich generation issues, and money are just some of the reasons why we never got away.

I know a lot of you get to travel and I don’t want to sound like an overexcited neophyte, but the point is that we did go to a part of the world that my 74% US readership have never visited, Cuba. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing a little bit of that experience once we’ve got the film developed, so to speak. I want to consider a number of things surrounding the contrast between the excesses in the resorts and the poverty of the masses in the rest of the country; and also the strange ways in which these worlds intersect.

For us, it was a life-changing experience; but then again, I’ll probably overuse that phrase many times in the next few days.

 

December 7, 2015

Building Margin into Your Schedule

About five years ago in a Sunday morning service our pastor was talking about the importance of having margin in your life. Margin to hear from God, to wait before Him and to expect miracles. That’s vital at a time of year when margin is slim because of the busy-ness of the season.

But then he picked up his Bible and talked about the margin that exists on each page of the book; space to add your own notes and record observations. I’ve thought of margin on several levels but never from a printing or graphic arts perspective, a field in which I have some familiarity.

In printing, margin is necessary because sometimes the paper gets trimmed a little off center, just like the time runs out on some days (and weeks, and months, and years) a little unexpectedly. Without some white space, there is the risk the text would simply get cut off.

But if your house is like mine, you probably got flyers, circulars, brochures or whatever they call them where you live delivered to your door or mailbox; and if you examine different types of printed matter, you see that in many cases there is no margin at all because the photo or background color is meant to look like it runs right to the edge. In fact it runs a good inch (2 cm) over the edge and is then trimmed back.

In graphic arts, this is called a bleed, and the designer will markup the text with the word ‘bleed’ to tell the printing people that the background gradient or pattern should overrun the page to be cut to size in the trim process.

And that, is my message to my readers for this Christmas, straight from the graphic art and design industry: If you don’t have margin, you bleed.

[Yes, it’s pithy remarks like that which keep readers coming back!]

If we don’t (literally) take the time to build margin into the busyness of the holiday season, we pay the price for it. If we try to do too much, there’s pain. If we fail to accomplish essentials we should have prioritized, there’s tears.

no vacancyWhich is odd considering the potentially frantic story of incarnation — in a crowded village that has run out of hotel accommodation because of a census registration — begins on what we regard as such a peaceful, silent, holy night. Christmas card images look so tranquil, but if you’ve ever driven into a town as we have only to learn that every motel and hotel is booked because of a sports tournament or a convention, you know that for Mary and Joseph, it was a very, very stressful day.

The celebration of the birth of Christ was never intended to drive us crazy on an annual basis. We’re celebrating the coming of Christ, not reliving the search for lodging that led up to it. Slow down — you might just hear from God — and take a cue from the printing industry: If there’s no margin, you bleed.

November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Link List

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:05 am

fall-scene

  • Thanksgiving is More Religious Than Christmas – Last week I spoke with a woman whose family—and extended family—exchanges gifts the first week in December, in order that the focus on Christmas Day itself will be all about Christ. I thought of her when I read this article, though as the new car advertisement says, ‘Your mileage may vary;’ we each experience the holidays differently in our family, economic and cultural contexts. See if you agree with 7 Reasons Thanksgiving is Way Better Than Christmas.
  • One Year Ago – We decided to celebrate Thanksgiving with some microblogging. A picture (or 7) is worth a thousand words, right? So if you’re new here
  • Thanksgiving Song of the SeasonAnd here’s a bonus song, just in time for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, My Heart is Full of Thankfulness by The Gettys, or if you prefer a more rollicking version by Stuart Townend.
  • It’s About a Beautiful Time of Year: There’s no denying that photographers love this time of year. Fall leaves contrast so well with blue sky. This worship song by Canada’s Brian Doerksen seems so appropriate on a day like today.
  • One Last Thanksgiving Debrief – Remember that time your high school small group leader asked, ‘What’s the opposite of love?’ and everybody said ‘hate’ and then he explained it’s really fear?  So what’s the opposite of “thanksgiving?” This answer is both surprising and satisfying: “While this may be human nature, nothing good comes of it.  Mark Twain said, ‘Comparison is the death of joy.’  For when we look and see someone else’s blessings, we suddenly have no appreciation of our own.”

With a day off, we thought some of you might be looking for some fall fiction reading…more great book covers at this link…with word the 2015 worst covers list is coming soon!

Lancast Amish Fires of Autumn

Finally this was forwarded from our friends at Flagrant Regard:

Mayflower's competition

December 1, 2014

While You’re Cleaning Up From Thanksgiving

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:01 am

Kids are back at school today, relatives are back at work, but the house is a disaster, right? Actually, it’s all in how you look at it. Credit for this goes to Chelsea Lee Smith; click the image below to explore her blog.

It's All In How You Look at It

November 21, 2014

The Hardest Days

Filed under: Christmas, Church, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:59 am

Doug and Gary were always the last to leave the office.  Doug always turned off the lights as Gary set the alarm, and on Fridays, Gary always asked Doug if he wanted to join him for church that weekend.

“Actually, I’m going to church with my wife on Sunday,” Doug replied.

“Oh right. I forgot you’re a CEO,” Gary said smiling.

“A CEO?”

“Christmas and Easter only.” They both laughed, and Gary continued, “You know it’s good that you’re going, but you always pick the two hardest days.”

image 211114“I know,” returned Doug, “The parking at that church is miserable at Christmas.”

“No, that’s not what I mean; you always choose incarnation and atonement. They’re the toughest ones to grasp.”

“Wait a minute, I thought you wanted me to attend church.”

“I do, but think about it; if you show up for The Good Samaritan, the message is ‘love your neighbor,’ that’s easy!  And if you show up for ‘husbands love your wives,’ well two minutes in and you’ve got that one. But incarnation –“

“Do you mean the flower or the canned milk?”

“No it’s the idea of God becoming man, God becoming one of us. See, God is like those triplicate materials requisition forms we send to head office. The kind where what you write on the top part goes through to all three. But then God Himself rips out one of the pages — let’s call it the middle one — and then the letter to the Philippians tells us that that part of God took on the role of a servant and entered into the human condition even to the point of experiencing human death, and a rather excruciating one at that.”

“So you’re talking about Jesus. You’re saying he was 50 percent man and 50 percent God. Like a centaur?”

“No it’s not 50/50, more like 100/100.”

“So that’s gotta hurt. Why would he do that?”

“Well that’s the Easter part, the atonement part. In another letter, to a young disciple named Timothy, the same writer wrote that ‘Christ came into the world to save sinners, of which I’m the worst.'”

“The guy who wrote part of the Bible said he was the worst?”

“Jesus himself said he ‘came into the world to look for and save people who were lost.’ In another part he said that he came into the world to give his life as a ransom payment for many; and in yet another written account of his life we read that he didn’t come to condemn — which is what a lot of people think church is all about lately — but that through him everybody could have eternal life.”

“So you’re talking about going to heaven when you die?”

“Well, actually, eternal life starts now.”

“How come I never heard that at a Christmas service before?”

“You did, but you probably weren’t tuned in to it. You heard the carols, but missed the connection between incarnation and atonement, and you can’t have the one without the other. Ultimately, Jesus — the baby in the manger — came to die for the world, for me, for you.”

“Wow;” Doug said, “I never heard it like that.”

 

 

 

Phil 2, I Tim 1:15, Luke 19:10, Matthew 20:28, John 3:17

October 20, 2014

The Fright Industry

Filed under: Church, current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am

pumpkin-carving

They appeared just after Labor Day.  Pop-up retail stores in strip malls and indoor centers dedicated wholly to the evening of October 31st.

Pop-up retail is not for the faint of heart. It involves a certain amount of portability in terms of inventory and fixtures, but you’re still installing cash registers and point of sale terminals, hiring staff and presumably obtaining liability insurance; all with a less than 60-day sales window.

In the U.S. and Canada, there is now big money in Halloween. It doubled between 2005 and 2011 in a way that other holidays did not. But numbers vary with each survey. A Forbes survey had it fourth, but had Thanksgiving second — food, no doubt being factored in — while a National Retail Federation survey for the same time period didn’t mention Thanksgiving at all, but listed “Winter Holidays” followed by Mother’s Day, Valentines Day and Easter.  A more recent NRF study had October 31st dead last, by a large margin, and trailing — any guesses? — the Super Bowl.

It eclipses Christmas for many families and neighborhoods in terms of decoration and the participation of children.  This year, having the holiday on a Friday night means some people may buy two costumes for two weekend parties.

Even within the broader Church, there are people who are totally unaware of All Saints Day, the feast day that follows on November 1st.  But in some conservative quarters, and also some not-so-conservative Evangelicals, an anti-Halloween movement started perhaps 20 years ago.  On this topic, I wrote:

…Of all the things that we could NOT do when I was younger — card playing, Sunday shopping, dancing, etc. that we now CAN DO; it’s interesting that there is this one unique area where we COULD do something years ago that now Evangelicals feel we can NOT do…

Taking my kids out trick-or-treating when they were younger was something that I sometimes I had to do rather low-key, as the winds of change among my church community were already blowing.

But this year, for the second time, we’re probably skipping participation in terms of handing out goodies as well. Our neighborhood has grown up somewhat; or perhaps we’re reacting to the mega-industry Oct. 31st has become and are simply trying to maintain a distinct identity.  


 

Redeeming the holiday: A preaching series tied to Halloween.

 

 

 

December 4, 2011

When There’s No Margin in Your Life

I want to extrapolate something different that was triggered by something our pastor said this morning.

He was talking about the importance of having margin in your life.  Margin to hear from God, to wait before Him and to expect miracles.  That’s vital at a time of year when margin is slim because of the busy-ness of the season. 

But then he picked up his Bible and talked about the margin that exists on each page; space to add your own notes and record observations.  I’ve thought of margin on several levels but never from a printing or graphic arts perspective.

In printing, margin is necessary because sometimes the paper gets trimmed a little off center, just like the time runs out on some days (and weeks, and months, and years) a little unexpectedly.  Without some white space, there is the risk the text would simply get cut off.

But if your house is like mine, you probably got flyers, circulars, brochures or whatever they call them where you live delivered to your door or mailbox; and if you examine different types of printed matter, you see that in many cases there is no margin at all because the photo or background color is meant to look like it runs right to the edge.  In fact it runs a good inch (2 cm) over the edge and is then trimmed back.

In graphic arts, this is called a bleed, and the designer will markup the text with the word ‘bleed’ to tell the printing people that the background gradient or pattern should overrun the page to be cut to size in the trim process.

And that, is my message to my readers for this Christmas, straight from the graphic art and design industry:  If you don’t have margin, you bleed.

[insert rim shot here]

If we don’t (literally) take the time to build margin into the busyness of the holiday season, we pay the price for it.  If we try to do too much, there’s pain.  If we fail to accomplish essentials we should have prioritized, there’s tears. 

Which is odd considering the potentially frantic story of incarnation — in a crowded village that has run out of hotel accommodation because of a census registration —  begins on what we regard as such a peaceful, silent night.

The celebration of the birth of Christ was never intended to drive us crazy on an annual basis.  Slow down, and take a cue from the printing industry: If there’s no margin, you bleed.

November 11, 2011

11-11-11

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:11 am

I’ve scheduled this post for 11:11 AM on 11-11-11.

The date suggests a number of themes.   First of all it’s Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day for our friends in the U.S.  The U.S. name suggests a day to commemorate all those who have served in past conflicts, whereas in Canada, I think the focus is there but also more applied to those who gave their lives fighting for the ideals that sparked the wars in question.

In an age of revisionism, I’ve addressed the idea that “people tend to forget” here twice recently, once in the lead up to Remembrance Day a year ago, and at the ten year anniversary of September 11th, just a few weeks ago.  The stylized Canadian flag which substitutes the poppy — a symbol of the day in the UK and Canada — for the maple leaf seemed an appropriate graphic.

Second, the fixation on numeric dates such as 11-11-11 suggests our passion for order; our passion for symmetry.  I’ve written before about growing up in a family where we tended to mark the moment when the odometer on the car rolled over to a significant number such as 50,000, or perhaps, as someone might experience today, 111,111.  (We’re in kilometers here so we get to do this more often, except we spell it kilometres.)

We like things that come in boxes we can pile neatly, at least I do, hence my life work has been among books and records and CDs (things which can be stacked, or boxed or displayed in rows) and not clothing or pillows or plush toys (which don’t share the same characteristics).  11-11-11 suggests a formal balance, and it also transcends the Canadian-versus-US difference of going day-month-year (logical; from smallest to largest) rather than month-day-year (logical because it echoes the written form: November 11th, 2011).  However, none of this should be taken to infer that our house is neat or that the desk I’m sitting at right now is not total chaos.

Finally, as a result of both of the above factors, it represents a “special day.”  The days tend to hum along without variance, so setting a day apart to remember the past, or just choosing a unique, once-ever date to celebrate the present breaks up the routine.

But typing that, I’m aware of at least one marginal Christian group that doesn’t permit the celebration of special days such as birthdays, anniversaries, or even Christmas.  I think that’s unfortunate.  Clearly, the Hebrew roots of Christianity point to a people for whom there was an annual cycle to the year beyond the atmospheric changing of the seasons.  Celebrations allow us to measure our days, to know our time for this life is fleeting; but also to enjoy where we’ve been and where God has brought us.

While the calendar dates are somewhat arbitrary, and some cultures ascribe a different year number; still, it’s hard to look at 11-11-11 and not think that there’s something worth giving a moment’s pause to consider that past generations possibly didn’t consider the human race might ever get this far.

At least one other Church/Christianity blogger at Alltop had the same idea.

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