Thinking Out Loud

June 4, 2015

Split Person

Kevin was the reason a whole bunch of guys from one of the local high schools started attending our youth group, and later joined the follow-up Bible study.

His leadership qualities meant that people listened when invited and many of the guys, as well as a few girls I probably wasn’t aware of, stayed and became part of the local church. Some of those I still see today.

Kevin was also rather promiscuous.

While at an age where boys are often more talk than anything, there was no denying his feeling of entitlement to an active sex life. He shared his philosophy with anyone who would listen, including my own circle of friends, and there didn’t seem to be any filters as to who he would try to make converts to his liberal views on sexuality.

Sometimes when there are disconnects in the life of a Christian, we say they have "a divided heart." Read more at Psalm 86:11.

Sometimes when there are disconnects in the life of a Christian, we say they have “a divided heart.” Read more at Psalm 86:11.

One time he invited me to a particular club he was going to on a weeknight. Though the bar was in downtown Toronto, it was on the edge, about ten minutes from where I was living. I wanted to hear the band, so I went along and got to see him in action. Within minutes he was in deep conversation with one particular young woman, had bought her a drink, and then they were dancing.

I had some conversations, too; but had a sense of being in the wrong place. Around the same time, I would write a song, “You Don’t Belong Here,” about a young person who is basically looking for trouble, but the people he meets up with have a sense that he belongs to another tribe, and simply don’t let him enter in fully to what they’re doing. The situation repeats through another two verses, and then in the final verse, he finds himself standing before God who checks his list and says, “You don’t belong here.”

I got Kevin to drive me home, and then, as I learned later, he drove back to the club and reconnected with the woman. It wasn’t all talk.

He was a strange mix. An ambassador for both Evangelical Christianity and a Playboy lifestyle. He was actually one of three people I knew during that time period, whose personality and person-hood was split between competing ideals, and had basically no problem with that. At the time, I always felt there was an element of secrecy about a duplicitous life, so I couldn’t really think of him as hypocritical when he broadcast his views so widely and loudly.

If it were me, I would be torn apart with internal conflict.

Troy was another. Despite a very conservative Christian upbringing in which he was still committed to, he had no problem regularly going to strip clubs.  By age 23, he had seen more women naked than most men would ever see in a lifetime. While I was tempted, his invitations to me to tag along were never accepted.

Derek was another. Vowing never have sex with a non-Christian, he would invite the girls to church and see that they prayed the sinner’s prayer before taking them to the bedroom in his parents’ home. That was the one that disgusted me the most, and when you analyze it, there was nothing particularly redeeming about his ‘vow;’ it would probably have been better if it never existed. 

I should say that around the same time, I realized that there is a sense in which everybody has some type of compromise, albeit to a greater or lesser extent. With the three guys here, it was just so brazen.

These are the types of people I met in church when I was in my early twenties.

In their own way, God used them to refine my faith.

Names have been changed. The youth group was a mix of teens and college and career aged people and so two of the three people in the story were of legal age for drinking and clubbing. Two of the three people in the story maintain a connection to the church.

June 23, 2013


Filed under: character, writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:11 am

Awhile ago, my oldest son wrote a piece that continues to be one of this blog’s top ten posts for traffic; so it seemed only fair to have you meet my youngest son…

the part nobody sees


by Aaron Wilkinson

Every now and then I have a dream that changes the way I see myself. It’s like when I fall asleep and stop trying to overthink the world my subconscious mind gets a chance to offer a new interpretation or understanding of something I’ve been entirely blind to. Recently, there has been one in particular that I keep remembering.

I’m on stage. In a play. The audience is every friend, every acquaintance, every person I have ever met or interacted with at all. Being my egotistical self, I was playing the main character. The audience ‘ooh’ed and ‘aah’ed and gasped and laughed as I recited my lines and went through the motions with precision and artistry. The performance ended. Standing ovation. Myself and the other faceless actor’s bowed. After the curtain closed I stepped through the curtain and invited my friends backstage.

Suddenly the expressions of awe and admiration were replaced with confusion and disappointment. Some went backstage. Others just left. The ones that did inspected the scene and the props. They spoke with the other actors. Then I approached a group of them that were my closest friends. They introduced themselves. They had no idea who I was and no interest in finding out. Then I woke up in tears.

I think the moral of the story if fairly obvious. I don’t actually believe that no one knows who I really am but I believe that I often make that knowledge hard to achieve. I get scared of what people will think of me when I’m not ‘performing’. When there’s no objective, no expectation, and no script what’s left of me? How much of what people know of me is a character I play or an imposter I’m unaware of?

How often do I invite people backstage? How often do you? The tagline for this blog is ‘a library of unfinished works’. Some of my friends will know that I love the idea of what I call ‘thoughts without conclusions’. Just bouncing ideas and asking questions for the purpose of figuring out what we don’t know. Seeing what we still need to see. Recognizing what is still unfamiliar. With that in mind I’m still trying to figure out the answer to the questions: what is backstage and how can I let people in there more often.

December 6, 2012

Where is Pro-Choice Protest over Royal ‘Baby’ News?

Baby or tissue

From a hardcore pro-choice position, it’s not a baby. Not yet. But absolutely everyone is caught up in the celebration. And at least one blogger at Flagrant Regard had the courage to point out the resulting double-standard in an open letter to pro-choicers:

You rant and scream at your rallies, on your blogs, in your liberal-leaning newspaper columns and directly at your detractors that abortion – especially if performed on a woman prior to the 24-weeks-pregnant mark – is okay because the creature, the ‘it-thing’ inside that woman’s body is a fetus. ‘Fetus’, in your minds, being a word for a disposable type of developing life-form that’s not, in fact, a little human person.

Really? ‘Cause you wouldn’t know it today.

Every news server this morning broke the story that Kate Middleton, the internationally admired, beloved Dutchess and wife of the future king of England is about 12 weeks pregnant.

Websites have already been created in homage to the ‘baby-to-be’, throngs of royal-watchers are passionately discussing what the baby’s name might be if it’s a boy or a girl, women everywhere are gushing and/or vicariously ‘glowing’ over, with or for Kate Middleton in anticipation of the newly expected ‘child’ who will be 3rd in line to the royal throne (as if he/she had the job in hand already).

Is the issue here the celebrity brought on by pure celebrity or because this is a ‘royal’ pregnancy? Maybe there would be fewer abortions if all women felt they were carrying a child in line to a royal throne.

So if I am understanding this correctly, a woman has the right to call something growing inside her a “zygote, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus” (thank you for the terminology, Pro-Choice Action Network) and then rip it out of her body if she believes it to be anything less than a prince or princess in the making?

And that’s just the beginning. Our anonymous blogger has just begun his well-placed rant.

Continue reading here. I’m sure some of you will want to comment, too; so I’ve shut comments off here so you can leave them with the author. You know you want to.

May 9, 2010

Pastors Who Are Non-Believers

This item by Erin Roach appeared as part of the “Culture Digest” collection for April 30th at Baptist Press.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A study by Tufts University has called attention to the presence of Protestant pastors who do not believe what they preach, something the authors describe as a nearly “invisible phenomenon” of “unbelieving clergy.”

Ambiguity regarding who is a believer in Jesus and who is a nonbeliever, the report said, is a result of the pluralism that has been fostered by many religious leaders for at least a century.

“God is many different things to different people, and since we can’t know if one of these conceptions is the right one, we should honor them all,” the authors wrote in summarizing the pluralistic view.

Rather than relying on statistical evidence to point to a conclusion, the study employs anecdotal stories of five ministers whose identities have been obscured. Even the authors admit they couldn’t draw any reliable generalizations from such a small sample of clergy, but what they found, they said, does deserve a closer look.

One pastor, a Methodist, said he no longer believes that God exists, but his church members do not know that he is an atheist. Most of them, he said, don’t even believe Jesus literally rose from the dead or literally was born of a virgin.

Another pastor, from the United Church of Christ, said he didn’t even believe in the doctrinal content of the Christian faith at the beginning of his ministry, but he continues to preach as if he believes because it’s the way of life he knows.

A Presbyterian pastor in the study said he remains in ministry largely for financial reasons and acknowledged that if he were to make known that he rejects most tenets of the Christian faith he would obliterate his “ability to earn a living this way.”

A Church of Christ pastor explained how he continues to lead his church despite losing all theological confidence.

“Here’s how I’m handling my job on Sunday mornings: I see it as play acting. I see myself as taking on the role of a believer in a worship service, and performing,” the pastor said.

He describes himself as an atheistic agnostic and said he still needs the ministerial job and no longer believes hypocrisy is wrong.

A Southern Baptist pastor included in the study said he was attracted to Christianity as a religion of love and now has become an atheist. If someone would offer him $200,000, he said, he’d leave the ministry right away.

“‘Preachers Who Are Not Believers’ is a stunning and revealing report that lays bare a level of heresy, apostasy and hypocrisy that staggers the mind,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog in March.

“In 1739, Gilbert Tennett preached his famous sermon, ‘On the Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.’ In that sermon, Tennett described unbelieving pastors as a curse upon the church. They prey upon the faith and the faithful. ‘These caterpillars labor to devour every green thing.’

“If they will not remove themselves from the ministry, they must be removed. If they lack the integrity to resign their pulpits, the churches must muster the integrity to eject them,” Mohler wrote at “If they will not ‘out’ themselves, it is the duty of faithful Christians to ‘out’ them. The caterpillars are hard at work. Will it take a report from an atheist to awaken the church to the danger?”

As for the cartoon, I traced a use of it back to an appearance in this blog post about doubt from a Christian perspective, but thought if you’re feeling really brave, you should consider this recent blog post about seminary education from an atheist perspective where you’ll also see the same cartoon.

April 17, 2010

The Tree in the Garden

It was a simple test.   Other than this, you can do anything you want to, just don’t touch that tree over there.   Yeah, that one.

Adam and Eve lived in less complex times.   It was a good time to be alive if you were bad at remembering peoples’ names.   Or not so good at history.   And the only moral law they had was “The One Commandments.”  Thou shalt not touch the fruit of the tree in the middle.

You know the tree.  The one that looks so inviting.  The one thing you can’t have.   The big fluffy tree that’s like a giant “Wet Paint” sign that’s just begging you to touch your finger to it.   Except they didn’t have paint back then.

Anyway, you know how that story ended.

I believe that throughout history there has always been a tree in the middle of the garden.   It’s there in the garden of our world.   In the garden of our society.   In the garden of our nation.   In the garden of our community.   In the garden of our families.   In the garden of our hearts.

There’s always a tree.

The warning not to touch its fruit is given to some by direct command, though others believe that the idea of not tasting of its bounty is written on the hearts of people; they simply know.

Some people say that everyone knows this, some people think people do need to be commanded, to have it spelled out for them; while others spend long hours drinking hot beverages wondering what then of the people who haven’t heard of the command.

In some cases, there is always one large tree to confront.   In other cases there are several trees which must be avoided.    Some reach a point where they simply lose interest in the forbidden fruit, it no longer tempts them, only to find themselves looking squarely at another tree, which holds a similar prohibition.

“Why, when I have lived my whole life never having been tempted to touch the tree in the middle of the garden, do I find myself now, at this stage of life, looking squarely at another tree in another part of the garden which is so very captivating, but apparently so equally off limits?”

Many, therefore, succumb.

Meanwhile others say there are no trees that are verboten.   The time of such restrictions has passed, and one is free to enjoy all the fruit of all the trees.   They entice others to eat, and the penalty for such as trespass doesn’t seem to befall these, though the eating of the fruit does leave a kind of stomach ache that lasts for a long, long, long, time.

At the other extreme are those who manage to transcend all of the temptations and all of the trees.   These people enjoy a kind of regret-free, stomach-ache free existence.   They are above such weaknesses.  They don’t eat the fruit.   They don’t touch the tree.   They stay away from all the trees in all the gardens that might be simply wrong to taste, touch or even look back on.

They are however, rather quick to condemn those who who do succumb.   “We warned them;” they say.   “We put up signs that pointed people to the other trees; the safe, practical trees; the open spaces free of vegetation.”

They do this, not realizing, that their response is their tree.

Their careful analysis of the condition of gardens inhabited by weak people who do in fact stumble, who do in fact fail; their commentary on the nature of human weakness; their lack of compassion for those who have been unable to resist the appeal of the tree and its fruit… somehow… in some way… that became their tree.

They have gazed at it.   They have touched its trunk, its branches and its leaves.   They have tasted its fruit.

They are really no different.

For all have missed it; coming up short in understanding of the true nature of the creator and his expectations.

They forgot to look at the tree they were standing next to all along.

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Create a free website or blog at