Thinking Out Loud

August 16, 2019

What it Means to be Human

Lately, I’ve been encountering the phrase, “What it means to be human.” Since I almost exclusively read from Christian sources, this wasn’t some self-help, or human-potential phrase being utilized, but rather Christian writers encouraging us that with with God at the center of our lives we can be all that we were made for.

But for the last 96 hours, I’ve been thinking about “What it means to be sub-human.”

Our next door neighbors came back from their annual two months away.

The man walks up and down the property which divides our houses growling a long list of expletives. No additional nouns, articles or prepositions in-between. It’s directed at us, and we know this. He doesn’t like us, and he doesn’t like our trees. He tore down every tree on his property, diminishing its resale value in the process.

My wife, who is not given to pronouncements of this nature, said yesterday, “I think he might be demon possessed.”

These are the people whom I once compared to another neighbor when we lived in Toronto:

We had a rather strange chain-smoking neighbor when we lived in our apartment in Toronto. I recently asked God why we were forced to spend the last 25 years living next door to bad neighbors after already dealing with this in Toronto and I very distinctly heard God say, “Because anybody else would have killed them by now.” I laughed when God said that, and I think I saw Him smile.

I just checked the date on that post, and it’s been almost exactly five years, so I guess this is a twice-a-decade rant, since it doesn’t look like they’re moving anytime soon, and we can’t.

We were made for more. We were made to serve God and love Him forever.

But sometimes, you’re only reminded of this when you see someone who almost seems to have been made for lesser things; who seem less than human; who almost strike out against the notion that we were all made in the image of God.

And that’s unfortunate, because the power of God in a life is transformative. And yes, it’s difficult, but we do pray for that miracle, though admittedly not often enough.


No graphic with this. What graphic image would you have used to illustrate this article?

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December 14, 2017

Introverts and Extroverts

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:59 am

A few weeks ago one of my sons had an opportunity to have a one-on-one meeting with the pastor of a megachurch. He’s seen this person pour himself into an energetic sermon each week, but found that, off the platform, he was very quiet and unassuming. This pastor has admitted to his introvert character many times, but it still came as a surprise to my son.

Perhaps you know what it’s like to, without hesitation, get up in front of large group of people and perform, but then turn around and be extremely intimidated in a group of three or four. I’ve been in a room where about 2,000 people listened to my piano playing, but invite me into your living room, point to the piano and say, “Play something;” and I will totally freeze.

I don’t remember us hearing as much about the introvert/extrovert distinction as we have in the last decade. Does it define more people, or are we just more sensitive to it? Additionally, it’s easy to forget the situation even exists when the person has a pubic role that overshadows the underlying core personality trait.

In his earthly body, Jesus would have had some identifiable personality characteristics. It sounds a little strange to think of him as introverted, but consider these scriptures:

Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and slipped out to a solitary place to pray.
 (Mark 1:35)

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
 (Luke 5:16

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.
 (Mark 6:31) 

When Jesus heard about [the death of] John, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. But the crowds found out and followed Him on foot from the towns.
(Matthew 14:13)

These verses are often discussed in terms of the spiritual discipline of prayer which Jesus demonstrated, but we also see the example of someone trying to de-stress away from the crowds.

So I found this chart at Psychological Facts rather interesting. I also learned on the introverted side of things, that I haven’t been sensitive to people around me in terms of items #4, 5 and 6. We tend to read these things and immediately start thinking of ourselves instead of — as in the case with the book The Five Love Langauges — remember that our goal should be to see how this information helps us connect with others.

Caring for Introverts and Extroverts

How conscious are you of the introvert/extrovert dichotomy in your family, church, or workplace?

October 21, 2017

Churches Need Servants Not “Captains”

Is the modern church over-emphasizing leadership skill sets?

by Ruth Wilkinson

Somebody at a church told me something once, by way of a dismissal, that has stuck in my introvert brain. It’s gone round and round like a leaf in an eddy of river water.

The statement was this: “I don’t see you as a captain. At least, not yet.” The idea being that I wasn’t fit to fill a certain role in that church.

In the moment, I was disappointed, but also there was something that objectively bothered me. Hence the swirling.

“Captain?” Captains have unassailable authority. Captains give orders. Captains have the best quarters and eat at the best table. Captains wear the fanciest uniform. Captains earn the most money and have the loudest voice and shout “Ten-hut!” and “Everybody look at me!”

Captains serve on the Starship Enterprise. Not in the Church.

The Church is the body of Christ. His hands and feet and speech in the world.

I am a servant of that body. I, like all of us, have one calling: to honor God with our gifts and skills, and to serve each other.

In my case, that service comprises music – “leading worship” as it has come to be called. It also includes leading worship leaders. Seeing the potential in other singers and musicians to join in, encouraging them to contribute to planning and then to step out on their own.

I’ve had the joy of raising up a team to feed, encourage and speak Christ’s love to people on the margins of society – a group which has gone on to become an established charity still doing good work in our area.

I’ve been paid to teach groups how to work together to plan, prepare and execute a Sunday morning. Finding their own giftings and setting them loose.

I’ve built from scratch a band of worship singers and musicians drawn from 6 different churches who played together for 3 years.

And I’ve been effective. All without shouting a single order.

So, no, thank God, I’m not a captain. I’m a servant. A builder of frames, a drawer of shapes. I’m a finder of treasures and an opener of doors. A creator of opportunities and an encourager.

And no, I guess I’ll never receive the formal affirmation – the blessing – of my fellow believers. My ‘salute’ will always be hugs and moments and memories.

I just hope that we’re not heading to a future where “captains” run the church. I might just demob.

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.

December 30, 2014

The Introvert / Extrovert Distinction

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

It came up again yesterday in a discussion, and it also is a recurring theme when our whole family is together over the holiday season.

There are three of the four of us in our family who without hesitation will get up in front of large group of people and perform, but in each case, we can be extremely intimidated in a group of three or four. I’ve been in a room where about 2,000 people listened to my piano playing, but invite me into your living room, point to the piano and say, “Play something;” and I will totally freeze.

I don’t remember us hearing as much about the introvert/extrovert distinction as we have in the last year or so. Does it define more people, or are we just more sensitive to it?

So I found this chart at Psychological Facts rather interesting. I also learned on the introverted side of things, that I haven’t been sensitive to people around me in terms of items #4, 5 and 6.

Caring for Introverts and Extroverts

How do you deal with the introvert/extrovert dichotomy in your family, church, or workplace?

August 14, 2014

Oh Crappy Day

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River  in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]

You may remember this tree from the review of Mark Hall’s Thrive book we did a few months ago. Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]

Okay, it wasn’t that bad. Not compared to some things people we know are dealing with. Perspective.

But still, it was not a great day. I was going to call this short post, “I Live Next Door to the Devil.” It’s true. He was away for several months, but last night he returned home from holidays.

Today after lunch, he started yelling at me across the fence. He doesn’t like our trees overhanging his property. Actually he doesn’t like trees at all. Any trees. Over the past few years, he’s cut down all the trees on his property. A nice silver birch. A beautiful blue spruce. Several smaller ones. Even small shrubs.

He told me, “If you want to live in the country go live in the country.”

He hates nature.

The owner of a local tree service, before he passed away told me that a mature tree can add at least $1,000 per tree to your property values. But that was almost two decades ago. I’m guessing that $3,000 to $5,000 might even be realistic. They bring birds, and squirrels which bring music and entertainment.

I told him that we did, in fact thin out the foliage while he was away. But this is not the type of person you reason with.

He told me that he was going to take his chainsaw to them. I said, “Fine; cut down anything that’s over the property line.”

But then I had a change of heart. I rounded up the troops and all four of us descended on his side yard and back yard and did major surgery on the trees ourselves. We had a hedge-clipper going, two saws and were raking up everything as we went.

All this of course, looking over my shoulder the whole time. The guy is so mentally unstable I figured any minute he might decide we were trespassing.

This guy is a major case of anger management issues. We live in a constant tension of never knowing where he’s going to strike next.

We have no backyard. The side yard on our corner lot needs a bit of privacy. The trees provide that for us, something another neighbor affirmed when I spoke with him later in the afternoon.

We love trees. He hates trees. He really hates trees.

What an insane thing to argue over. 

Or perhaps he just hates us.

Pray for us.

Seriously.


Postscript: We had a rather strange chain-smoking neighbor when we lived in our apartment in Toronto. I recently asked God why we were forced to spend the last 25 years living next door to bad neighbors after already dealing with this in Toronto and I very distinctly heard God say, “Because anybody else would have killed them by now.” I laughed when God said that, and I think I saw Him smile.

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.

June 18, 2013

The Dynamics of Unfriending

Social media has changed the landscape and added dozens, if not hundreds of new words to our vocabulary. Friend has become a verb along with its opposite, unfriend.

But many of us have understood the dynamics of unfriending long before we owned a computer. We were talking about that last night, though the story here involves today’s technology.

severed relationshipsThere’s a guy that was on my business mailing list who out of the blue asked to have his name removed. I’m a little sensitive about these things, but I tried not to let it get to me. We were doing one newsletter every three weeks, and for some people that is simply too frequent. I deleted his name.

Still, this is a guy I’d been to lunch with twice, and coffee a few other times. This was somebody who had been on the fringes of a particular church and because of that, we had some things in common. This was a guy with whom we had several mutual friends. This was a person who had done volunteer work with a ministry organization I was supporting financially. This was an individual with whom I shared a number of musical and technical interests.

So a year later, I decided out of the blue to give it another shot. The email subject line was “Miss you” and the entire message was:

Hope things are going well.
Thinking of you today.

I felt like I was back in high school. The whole “Miss you” thing seemed slightly less than masculine. Women send “Thinking of you” cards. Women worry about relationships. But it was something I felt strongly convicted to do. I like to keep relationships open. I don’t ever want to be the type of person who has to walk over to the other side of the street when they see a certain person coming the other way.

The thing that irks me about this particular unfriending is that I don’t know why. What did I do? Not do? What did I say? Not say? Did someone else say something?

You start playing all types of mental gymnastics games trying to think where the relationship went off the rails.

So…ever been unfriended? Have you ever been the unfriender?

March 2, 2012

So, You Think You Know That Person?

Years ago, just before an annual meeting at a local church where I was serving, a woman went to the pastor quite distraught over an article I had written in the local newspaper on some municipal issue that she didn’t think was appropriate for someone on church staff.

The pastor let her rant for awhile, and then said, “Well, say what you will, but I know his heart.”

While I appreciated his coming to my defense, I also have tried to adopt a similar attitude toward others. I need to either (a) admit I don’t know people fully, and certainly not as God does; or (b) try to get to them better, not just superficially, but get to know their heart.

So as soon as I saw this at Barry Simmons’ blog yesterday, I knew I had to share it with you.

Danger of Assuming Knowledge of Someone’s Heart

Jesus said “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). However, contrary to secular society’s assumption, he was not saying that moral evaluations are off limits.  In the same Sermon on the Mount he talked about knowing someone by the fruit of their lives. What I believe He was saying is that we must be careful to apply to ourselves the same standards we apply to others, and with the same severity.  We should give others the same level of mercy and understanding that we want for ourselves.

He was also saying that we should not be quick to presume we know someone’s’ heart or the facts of their situation. Here’s a thought provoking list from Kevin DeYoung of things not to assume (prejudge):

Don’t assume you know all the facts after hearing one side of the story.
Don’t assume the person is guilty just because strong charges are made against him.
Don’t assume you understand a blogger’s heart after reading one post.
Don’t assume that famous author, preacher, athlete, politician, or local celebrity won’t read what you write and don’t assume they won’t care what you say.
Don’t assume the divorced person is to blame for the divorce.
Don’t assume the single mom isn’t following Jesus.
Don’t assume the guy from the mission is less of a man or less of a Christian.
Don’t assume the pastor looking for work is a bad pastor.
Don’t assume the church that struggles or fails is a bad church.
Don’t assume you’d be a better mom.
Don’t assume bad kids are the result of bad parents.
Don’t assume your parents are clueless.
Don’t assume everyone should drop everything to attend to your needs, and don’t assume no one will.
Don’t assume the rich are ungenerous.
Don’t assume the poor are lazy.
Don’t assume you know what they’re all like after meeting one or two of their kind.
Don’t assume you should read between the lines.
Don’t assume you have interpreted the emotions of the email correctly.
Don’t assume everyone has forgotten about you.
Don’t assume they meant to leave you off the list.
Don’t assume everyone else has a charmed life.
Don’t assume a bad day makes her a bad friend.
Don’t assume the repentance isn’t genuine.
Don’t assume the forgiveness isn’t sincere.
Don’t assume God can’t change you.
Don’t assume God can’t love you.
Don’t assume God can’t love them.

August 27, 2009

It’s Not Your Circumstances, It’s How You Respond To Them

During the past year I have been directly responsible for a number of relational train wrecks involving myself and others.    While each of these is a story unto itself, beginning with something that I did not precipitate, I either responded in a way that was less than clear, or I responded out of anger and frustration.

Who ever said, “Don’t shop at the grocery store when you’re hungry,” could have equally said, “Don’t write e-mails when you’re angry.”

Furthermore, if I examine the situations analytically, often the person or organization met by my vent or rant is not the person or organization that has caused me to have a bad day, a bad week or a bad month.

As someone who has come through periods of physical illness, I have also discovered, sad to say, that I am a mellower person when I am also dealing with something that has left me broken or humbled or aware of weakness.   It’s when I’m feeling  “good” that I sometimes through caution to the wind and say things I shouldn’t.

Yesterday, I spoke with a former pastor who described to me the feeling of not having to care what people might think about a particular course of action.   While before some things might have mattered a great deal, now he simply doesn’t have to factor in the opinions of a church board, church staff, or church membership.

I can’t speak fully for him, but I know that lately I have simply “shut down” trying to build on interpersonal relationships.   While in a couple of cases I have been the one to seek reconciliation and restoration of the relationship, in several other cases I have found myself simply no longer caring what people think of me.   In fact, I think that lately some of my best “relationships” have been with people who don’t really know me at all; insofar as I have achieved a depth of mutual communication, empathy and understanding with people I’ve only met a short time before.

I want to “learn my lesson” in this department, but I have come to regard any relationship that I had over 90 days as just about to reach its “best before” date; I’ve come to almost expect that something will go wrong, relationally; and I’ve decided those relationships aren’t worth consideration because they’re probably minutes or hours from disintegration.   And I fully acknowledge that — without specific intention — it has often been entirely my fault.

Twenty-four hours ago, I returned from a long day at work — eight hours without even so much as a restroom break (too much information, I know) — and found a business e-mail waiting for me containing information that was contrary to what I thought we had committed to.   Because of past history with this company, I assumed this was just another in a long line of broken expectations.   So I typed a short, angry, over-the-top e-mail figuring, “Maybe, just maybe, this will get their attention.”

What I didn’t factor in was that the person I sent it to may not have been responsible at all for what happened.  I was simply building on the anger of some contact from previous in the week.   In fact, without going into details, in my mind I was being the ‘good guy’ in the broader exchange, as I was going along with his assumption that I would enter into a certain venture that I had previously indicated I would not.   So having jumped through their hoops, how could they possibly then mess it up on their end?

But I also didn’t factor in — though I was aware of it in our earlier e-mails at the start of the week — that this person has just come through a personal crisis dealing with the sudden loss of a family member.   He didn’t need the stress of my letter.

So now, in more specific terms, I must write an apology.   I’ll leave out the background analysis.   It doesn’t really matter.   What matters is hitting the “send” button before thinking it through more carefully.   What matters is that other people have feelings, too.   I’m sorry.

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