Thinking Out Loud

April 15, 2018

People in Your Church: Beautiful He and Beautiful She

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:48 am

by Ruth Wilkinson

It’s pouring rain. Buckets. Pissing down, as our English friends would say.

And it’s moving day.

S. and her family, including young K., are on their way. Everything is in boxes, the key has been arranged for. All there is to do now is actually go.

I had to work today, but swung by to say good bye and see if I could lift a few boxes and feel like I’d helped. When I got there, the truck was full and the trailer almost. S.’s man, the cranky Dutchman, was wrestling one end of a big wooden thing into place while the other end of it was being wrestled by Beautiful He.

Beautiful He and Beautiful She are a couple I’ve known for years and they get lovelier the longer you know them. He’s a builder and she’s an artist, both on canvas and in the kitchen.

They were both there today to help S. move with their big black truck and their trailer.

I first met Beautiful He and Beautiful She at a church I used to go to.

As with any ‘church’, there are people who do different jobs and, as with any ‘church’ there are jobs people want to do and jobs people don’t. Most of the ones people do want involve the use of microphones and rehearsal.

Most of the ones I’ve done involve the use of microphones and rehearsal.

One Sunday morning, we’d just finished our final practicing and I was heading down the hall to go check on my son in the nursery.

The soundcheck was done, the arrangements finalized. My head was full of songs, and key changes, and harmonies. I needed to check my hair and make sure my skirt was turned around straight and my mascara hadn’t run and then I was headed back to the platform for the ‘pre-service song’ (of which there would be one, followed by a spoken welcome, 2 songs, a pastoral prayer, 3 songs and then, after the sermon, one more.)

As I headed down the hall, I saw Beautiful She coming the other way. Also wearing a skirt, also with her hair done, also wearing heels. Carrying a bucket, and a mop, and a plunger. She smiled as she passed and said good morning, Ruth, the practice sounded good. And away she went, turned down the hall to the bathroom and disappeared through the door.

I thought, “That’s who I want to be.”

I want to be someone who can get all dressed up but be willing to wield a plunger. To put on a pair of high heels, and go stand in a puddle. Who doesn’t take themselves so seriously ‘as an artiste‘ that they’re no use to anybody. Someone who can be beautiful while cleaning up a mess because cleaning up messes is a beautiful thing to do.

Someone who’ll be truly available to what ever God puts in their path, to serve and to give and to love.

Someone who’ll put down her paintbrush and leave her easel, long enough to get soaked to the skin by cold September rain, helping a virtual stranger move.

That’s who I want to be.

January 17, 2017

Christians and Reading

bookstore-signThis is part two of two articles on the general subject of reading and language, especially as it relates to the closing of bookstores in the wider market, and Christian bookstores in particular. Click here for part one.

Times are a lot tougher than in the past. Millennials struggle to find jobs and wealth creation is not as it was in the days of double-digit interest rates. The R-word — recession — is occasionally mentioned; some say we’re moving into it, some say we’re in it, some say we’re in recovery. Christian bookstores could have reason to claim immunity for the following reasons:

  1. In full out economic depression, people turn to religion.
  2. Also in depression, people turn to entertainment. While the book industry doesn’t have the same profile as movies, music and television, it is most definitely a subset of the entertainment industry.

So why have so many Christian bookstores closed? As with yesterday’s article, I haven’t taken the time to cite studies and statistics, but trust me on some things I can offer anecdotally.

First, we mentioned the various time pressures, distractions, and diminishing attention spans. I would argue that this has led to decline in the traditional devotional reading time. Bill Hybels has tried to give this new life by christening it with a new name, Chair Time. I wrote about that in February, 2016. Curling up with a good book and building a personal library are becoming rare activities. The only way to ensure people have contact with books at all is sometimes to have small groups or home groups which are essentially book study groups. That doesn’t always happen however. Many house groups use church-provided outlines or small study guides related to DVD curriculum they are watching. I do like the traditional book groups, especially in the sense in which they provide accountability (to cover the chapters for the next meeting.)

Second, I think the problem is self-perpetuating. Focus on the Family did some studies a decade ago on the spiritual influence the Dad has in the home, citing things like church attendance over time. I would contend that a generation is arising that has never seen their fathers sitting in a chair reading and when I say reading here, I would settle for the Sears catalog or Sports Illustrated. Many homes no longer receive a newspaper; and I understand that, you can read it online. But online reading is very personal. I could be doing anything online now: Checking the weather, balancing my bank account, posting a social media status update, watching YouTube videos, playing an online game, reading a serious article, or writing for my blog. But when someone sits in a chair reading, they are very obviously reading. Kids need to see this modeled for them as a life component every bit as normal as brushing your teeth.

Third, I believe that leadership is not setting the pace. In the retail store where I hang out, we see Sunday School teachers, we see worship team members, we see small group leaders. What we don’t see is elders, deacons, board members. Sometimes I will visit other churches and I see the names of these people printed in the church bulletin and I don’t recognize any of those names. We even had an instance of a pastor who we were told on good authority did not use his book allowance in ten years. (The man was incredibly arrogant and probably felt he knew all there was to know.) There are a few exceptions to this, but many people are chosen to serve their church in this capacity because they are business owners or executives who are successfully managing the company they work for and are considered wise enough to run the affairs of the church. Maybe they’re too busy to work on their own spiritual formation. That wasn’t the case with Stephen however. When The Twelve needed to create another tier of leadership to do the everyday running of things, they chose, “a man of faith, full of the Holy Spirit.” (The solution to this is pastors who buy the books in bulk they want their elders to study and then give them out as required reading.) 

Fourth, the stores need traffic generators; they require a constant hit bestseller to pay the bills. The Left Behind series accomplished this. The Shack brought people to the stores to both discuss and purchase the book. The Purpose Driven Life did the same. (I know there are people here who aren’t fans of these three examples, but they make the store sustainable for people looking for a classic Spurgeon commentary, or something by Tim Keller, or an apologetics resource.) Even on the non-book side of things the Gaither Gospel Series DVDs provided that traffic. These days, whenever something takes off in the Christian marketplace, Costco and Barnes and Noble are quick to jump into the game. Conversely, it doesn’t help when major Christian authors experience moral failure. The publishers occasionally offer products exclusively to the Christian market, but they only do this for specific chains (Mardel, Parable, Family Christian, etc.) not the independent stores who so desperately need this type of support. You have to be inside the stores to see other products you might wish to read or give away.

Finally, we’re not presently seeing a spiritual hunger. People are not desperate for God in North America and Western Europe right now. We hear reports from Africa or South America, though it’s hard to really quantify what is happening when there are often fringe movements or revivals based on extreme Charismatic doctrine or a mixture of Biblical Christianity and local animistic beliefs. In my early 20s, I remember hearing a Christian speaker say (quite tongue in cheek) “We don’t need the Holy Spirit, we have technology.” There is a sense in which this is true. It does remind me of the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, but you can put salt in his oats to make him thirsty.” We have to find ways to instill that hunger for reading in our local congregations. Pastor recommendations of books from the pulpit are the most significant factor driving customers to make purchases or place orders.  Another way the technology can be made to work is by providing chapter excerpts for people to sample; but publishers are very reluctant to do this, for reasons which escape me. 

In conclusion, all the factors mentioned in the previous article are impacting bookstores in general, these factors listed here are some things that concern me about the Christian market in particular.

not_enough_shelves

January 4, 2014

I’d Rather See a Sermon Than Hear One Any Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:55 am

This appeared a few weeks ago at the blog Saints in Training. You can read an introduction there.

I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.

I soon can learn to do it if you’ll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you and the high advise you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.

When I see a deed of kindness, I am eager to be kind.
When a weaker brother stumbles and a strong man stays behind
Just to see if he can help him, then the wish grows strong in me
To become as big and thoughtful as I know that friend to be.
And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today
Is not the one who tells them, but the one who shows the way.

One good man teaches many, men believe what they behold;
One deed of kindness noticed is worth forty that are told.
Who stands with men of honor learns to hold his honor dear,
For right living speaks a language which to every one is clear.
Though an able speaker charms me with his eloquence, I say,
I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one, any day.

~Edgar A. Guest

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