Thinking Out Loud

June 23, 2016

The Labyrinth

LabyrinthOne of the Anglican churches in the town where I live has a labyrinth in the field behind the building. I remember the first time I saw it, probably well over a decade ago, and thinking it a rather odd sight for a Christian place of worship. Wikipedia (linked above) offers this origin:

In Greek mythology, the labyrinth (Greek: λαβύρινθος labyrinthos) was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur eventually killed by the hero Theseus. Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it.

Later on the article states

Prehistoric labyrinths are believed to have served as traps for malevolent spirits or as defined paths for ritual dances. In medieval times, the labyrinth symbolized a hard path to God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth). In their cross-cultural study of signs and symbols, Patterns that Connect, Carl Schuster and Edmund Carpenter present various forms of the labyrinth and suggest various possible meanings, including not only a sacred path to the home of a sacred ancestor, but also, perhaps, a representation of the ancestor him/herself: “…many [New World] Indians who make the labyrinth regard it as a sacred symbol, a beneficial ancestor, a deity. In this they may be preserving its original meaning: the ultimate ancestor, here evoked by two continuous lines joining its twelve primary joints.”

Almost as a postscript, the article ends with a section headed “Christian use”

Labyrinths have on various occasions been used in Christian tradition as a part of worship. The earliest known example is from a fourth-century pavement at the Basilica of St Reparatus, at Orleansville, Algeria, with the words “Sancta Eclesia” at the center, though it is unclear how it might have been used in worship.

In medieval times, labyrinths began to appear on church walls and floors around 1000 C.E.. The most famous medieval labyrinth, with great influence on later practice, was created in Chartres Cathedral.  The purpose of the labyrinths is not clear, though there are surviving descriptions of French clerics performing a ritual Easter dance along the path on Easter Sunday.  Some books (guidebooks in particular) suggest that mazes on cathedral floors originated in the medieval period as alternatives to pilgrimage to the Holy Land…

I’m sure my Baptist friends, if I had some, would be more strongly shocked and possibly even repulsed at the idea of such a very non-Biblical thing being part of the structure of the church. Nowhere do the scriptures suggest the construction or use of such. It’s very foreign to our experience…

300px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_CathedralIn the bookstore where I work a couple of days a week there are two aisles at the front, three in the middle and one at the back. Occasionally, when there are no customers (which is an increasingly common problem) I will pick up a book, kick off my shoes, and start walking up and down the aisles forming a somewhat random pattern of circles. I’m able to read and walk at the same time without serious injury; although this practice of pounding bare feet on a thin carpet supported by a concrete floor may have led to my current symptoms of plantar fasciitis. For some reason, I find I make great progress reading this way, not unlike the times as a teen I would play improvisations on the piano while studying the geography or chemistry textbook for an exam. Either the rhythm of this type of activity, or the built-in distraction helps me focus.

I wonder if there’s any real difference between what I do at the store and the Anglicans who walk the labyrinth?

We can be so quick to criticize; so hasty in our judgment that we don’t realize we are often doing the same things only differently; or with different terminology. I could just as easily pace the floor and meditate on a passage of scripture or even pray (keeping my eyes open of course so I don’t crash into a display of coffee mugs.)

I’m sure the focus of the labyrinth at an Anglican or Episcopalian church is prayer and meditation. Those are good things, right?

Still…this is clearly an extra-Biblical practice. I also wonder if the more things we add on to the elements of church life, instead of creating forms and devices that aid people in spiritual disciplines, we simply have layered on another disciplines, and thereby robbed people of the more basic approach to prayer and meditation. (Heck, my imaginary Baptist friends really don’t like that last word, either.)

The other challenge is the possibility that a few people make some of these practices which lie on the fringes of the Christian life more central than they need to be. It can be for some an obsession, or a ritual which obscures more important things we ought to be doing.

I’m quite sure there are Evangelical equivalents.

Top image: St. John the Evangelist Church in South Lancaster, Ontario. I tried to find one for the church where I live, but this one is similar.

Bottom image: Wikipedia

February 26, 2016

Book Makes Praying for the World More Intimate, More Personal

Today I want to recommend a book to you that was not given to me for review nor do I have a copy in front of me as I write this; but it’s one in a book genre that I feel is essential reading for any individual or family who wants to expand their prayer focus farther than their own immediate family and friends; beyond their own city or town.

Brian StillerBrian Stiller is what I would call a Christian statesman, a phrase which I take to mean a person who is both well-versed and widely-traveled and thereby is unusually forthright when it comes to the political,  economic and spiritual conditions and issues in various parts of the world. As Global Ambassador with the World Evangelical Alliance he is also the former President of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (the Canadian equivalent of NAE) and former President of Tyndale College and Seminary in Toronto.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting with Brian at each of these stages and he was gracious enough to allow me to interview him for a magazine when he was at EFC, and there were things he said that day which I can still quote verbatim.

His book, An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World (Bethany House, 2016, paper) would fall into the same category as the popular Operation World which is an exhaustive index of the countries of the world and the particular challenges each presents in terms of the spread of the gospel.

However, where Operation World is exhaustive, Praying for the World is personal. Brian Stiller shares from his own experiences, having visited the various countries covered in the book. The book is thereby somewhat autobiographical, but I would argue that Stiller’s write-ups for each are both subjective and objective at the same time.

Of the 52 chapters, not every one is about a unique nation:

  • 3 deal with prison ministries
  • 1 is a general perspective
  • 1 is about global prayer initiatives
  • 1 looks at The Pope
  • 1 looks at a religion rather than a nation, in this case Islam
  • 2 repeat a country; Vietnam and Rwanda each have two chapters

By my calculations, that means 43 countries remain; countries that most of us will never visit at all, but in this one book we’re afforded the opportunity to see these nations and their needs through Brian Stiller’s eyes. The 52 chapters may be read in any order, or consulted for reference. 

Each section contains:

  • an overview of that country
  • Brian’s ‘dispatch’ from that nation; the main essay
  • a key Bible verse
  • specific items for prayer
  • a suggested guided prayer

The potential uses for Praying for the World are many, but would include everything from your family prayer time, to giving to your missions committee, to having a copy in your church library.

Brian C Stiller - An Insider's Guide to Praying for the World



January 14, 2016

Spiritual Ups and Downs

Filed under: Christianity, personal, writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

Spiritual ups and downs

Several days ago I was introduced to someone who is a relatively new Christian. As she told a bit of her story, I felt led to share some things with her.

This is not a new thing, I do this all the time; but in this situation, even as I was hearing myself speak, I sensed an extra measure of authority in my words which is not always there. As an added plus, although I often allude to various scriptures, I found myself quoting passages more verbatim than I normally would.

It was a good discussion and I didn’t mind at all that it left me ten minutes late for our next appointment.

Flash forward about six hours…

I was alone in the house, and it was like I was having some type of gigantic spiritual breakdown. Overwhelmed with a variety of circumstances; frustrated, stressed out and discouraged; I found myself saying, “God, I can’t pray; I just can’t pray anymore.” (Yes, I realize the irony. By crying out to God I was praying. I was conscious of it at the time, too.)

It was just one of those moments — call it a spiritual warfare attack — where the burden of everything going on just seemed too much.

And that’s the end of the story…

…Okay, I realize this isn’t very redemptive, and it runs the opposite of most the Psalms you’ve read. If you read the Psalmist, you know that there is a lot of raw transparency there. But there is always resolution, a moment of ‘Then the Lord heard my cry’ (6:9; 18:6) or ‘Then the Lord answered me’ (34:4; 118:5).

Hey, I’m a writer. I like to tie up the end of the story with a bow. I want to end each blog post with, ‘and they lived happily ever after.’

So it looks like I’ve got the parts in the wrong order, right?

Well, no. Life is after all, a series of ups and downs, not just downs and ups. Each chapter of our lives is connected to the previous and to the next, and so our lives are more like a sine wave. (If you’re spiritually up all the time, I look forward to reading your book. Most people’s lives aren’t like that.)

And God and I were never that far away from each other. I was just at a low point. And alone at home. And probably especially vulnerable to attack after the spiritual high of my earlier conversation. And things did even out after I was through with my spiritual rant.

Can you relate?


Here’s a classic from Maranatha Music which came to mind as I wrote this:

September 18, 2015

War Room’s Message Isn’t Subtle, but Characters and Actors Excel

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer, media, reviews — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:53 am

Longtime friend Lorne Anderson describes himself as thinker, writer, student, musicologist, husband, father and Christian. He’s sharing this post with us today which also appears at his blog, Random Thoughts from Lorne.

War Room

War Room

Hollywood does not have a monopoly on film making, though the movie moguls there wish they did. I’m sure it galls them when a movie like War Room tops the box office as it did a couple of weekends ago in the United States.

War Room is the latest from the Kendrick Brothers, whose most recent releases were Courageous and Fireproof. The Kendricks are part of a church that a few years ago did more than lament that Hollywood was not interested in making family friendly movies – they did something about it. The church began making its own films for theatrical distribution, with church members learning the tools of the trade, both behind the cameras and in front of them Not only did they learn, they learned well. People go to see the films, which due to volunteer labour are produced on a much smaller budget than a Hollywood film would be. War Room, for example, was made with a budget of about $3 million.

As I understand it, to break even a film has to earn three times its production cost to break even. War Room has then in more than $40 million so far. Hollywood studios are green with envy.

The film comes out in Canada today, and I would strongly encourage those Canadians reading this to go see it – if not this weekend then sometime in the next week. Distributors make decisions on what movies to show based to a large degree on opening weekend numbers.

I saw the film a couple of weeks ago at a special preview screening. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew form the advance materials that the film was about prayer, and I wasn’t all that sure that it would be an entertaining two hours. I was wrong.

I prefer my Christian film-making to be a bit more subtle in its message. A film about prayer seemed to be a little bit of a sledgehammer approach to me. What saved it was that the movie has some genuinely funny moments, especially some lines delivered by two young actresses, Alena Pitts and Kathleen Dellinger. I don’t like child actors, but I’ll make an exception for those two, they are natural comics.

This is definitely a message film, you need to be aware of that going in. It is a simple message: prayer is powerful, as one family finds out, especially when things are tough. The situations are believable, the acting for the most part pretty good (I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between paid actors and volunteers in the film), the photography well done.

It’s not a perfect film, but then again the perfect film doesn’t exist. However, I found it to be a much better film than The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the most recent Hollywood offering I have seen. War Room shows real people in real situations. I could relate to it. I could relate to the people in it. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a series of fast-paced clichés – ear and eye candy for a Tuesday night. War Room is much closer to reality. Maybe that’s why Hollywood can’t make movies like this. Reality scares them.

So go see War Room. Then leave a message here to tell me what you thought of it.

September 15, 2015

Healed or Cured? Illness or Disease?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:18 am

From the July/August issue of The Pentecostal Testimony magazine. Dr. Randall Holm is associate professor of biblical studies and associate dean of student affairs at Providence College and Theological Seminary in Otterburne, Manitoba.

For some time now, medicine has made a distinction between disease and illness.  Disease is an abnormality in bodily function caused by a specific agent, such as a bacterium or virus, while illness refers to the accompanying social, cultural, spiritual and emotional effects of the disease on the suffering individual.

Some theologians, such as Pentecostal scholar Amos Yong, have picked up on this distinction and submit that we should also distinguish between curing and healing.  Curing, they say, addresses disease, and healing addresses illness. Writes Yong, “In relational perspective, healing takes place in community, sometimes including cures, but more often reconciling lives who were formerly strangers to one another.”

March 11, 2015

Wednesday Link List

This isn't related to anything that follows, it's just here... because.

This isn’t related to anything that follows, it’s just here… because.

Featured Links

Passivity, Submission, Bullying and Christian Womanhood – “As I grew up, I watched my Christian mother take a lot of emotional and verbal abuse…from my father and my older siblings, from people at church, her own siblings (my aunts and uncles), and neighbors. My mother rarely stood up for herself when she was treated poorly… I was also being taught to bottle up all my anger and never speak up on my own behalf, if mistreated. I was taught that the bully’s feelings were more important than my own… After many decades of living like this, when I got to adulthood I had no clue how to deal with conflict…Sometimes it took weeks, months, or years before I even recognized that I was being used or being treated poorly by someone because my mother (and Christian literature, sermons, Christian books, magazine articles, etc) had taught me to never think about myself, my feelings, or my needs, but to be intently ‘outward-focused,’ always striving to meet other people’ s needs because to do anything less was supposedly ‘selfish.’…I also had no skills or practice at how to handle conflict. I was taught that conflict was to be avoided, Christian women ought not to debate or argue with anyone nor to be assertive for any reason. This left me vulnerable to being picked on in adulthood with adult predators, as well as being mistreated as a kid by other kids …Many well-meaning Christians and churches unfortunately encourage girls and women to be this way, to think it is pleasing to God, or that God commands all women to be this way…”

Crafting the Best Sermons – Two links here; first an experienced pastor explains his decision to go back to writing full manuscripts: “I’ve found that if I don’t manuscript, I’m not capable of producing the kind of sermon that will live up to the kind of church that we want to see planted.” And then, the practical: “In the old days, before church planting, I’d devote four mornings a week to sermon preparation. On Monday and Tuesday I’d work on exegesis; on Wednesday and Thursday I’d begin to craft a sermon from the exegesis. I now do the same thing, except on one day: Thursday.”

Engaging the Culture: An Open Letter to Hozier, composer of Take Me To Church – “I had to find out more about you to understand why someone would write such lyrics. According to interviews you seem to have animus toward the Catholic Church and definitely an issue with Russia’s laws against homosexuals. Still to indict all of Christianity seems quite harsh. It is worth noting you wrote this song when you were only 22-years-old. Your fellow Irish rocker Bono has arrived at a very different view of the Church and Christianity with a few more years of life experience. Maybe given some time and a few more interactions with Christ followers you might have a change of heart.”

The Weather Impacts Church Revenues – “‘You have this perfect storm of people not being able to go to worship and so not bringing in offerings, combined with much higher than usual costs,’ Cindy Kohlmann, who works with Presbyterian churches in Greater Boston and northern New England, told the Associated Press. She told the news service that the financial toll might force some of the 60 Presbyterian churches in the region to close. Other denominations and religions told the AP of similar predicaments.”

Dawkins: Your Devotional Time with the Kids is Child Abuse  – “Richard Dawkins has said that children need to be protected from ‘religious indoctrination’ by their parents. The prominent atheist claimed that being brought up in a religious household prevents young people from being ‘properly educated’. Professor Dawkins, a well known evolutionary biologist, has previously caused outrage by remarking that teaching a child orthodox Christian beliefs about life after death is tantamount to ‘child abuse’.”

And Now for Something Completely Different – You don’t have to know exactly what Biblical Philology is to appreciate the self-congratulatory nature of this academic’s knowledge of the original sacred texts.

Don’t Fund-Raise Your Missions Trip on Social Media Alone – “It won’t be enough to just promote your mission trip through social media platforms. Fundraising will cost you time, work, money, and personal comfort. Be careful not to go the path of least resistance. Social media is the easiest way to get the word out to lots of people at once, but easy doesn’t always mean effective. Don’t shy away from the hard work of communicating with individuals, organizing events, doing extra jobs, and all kinds of other creative ways people have come up with missionary support.”

Museum of the Bible – “When it opens in late 2017, just about every aspect of the planned Museum of the Bible – the building materials, doorways and common areas – is intended to bring to mind the Holy Land or stories from the Bible itself. Hobby Lobby president Steven Green, in search of a home for his museum, purchased the building for $50 million… in Washington, D.C., located a few blocks from the Capitol and the National Mall.”

A Crisis in Cosmology – A new film, The Principle is now showing in selected markets and available for presentation in your city. “Dark Energy as we call it is the greatest mystery in all of creation.” “Science has said you must stay over in this category here, you’re not to go over into the God category, because that’s going to destroy our science.” “You can go on websites…NASA has started to take down stuff that might hint to a geocentric universe.” “We find ourselves in a part of the universe that is perfectly tuned to life.”

Quest Church Purchases the former Mars Hill Ballard – Eugene Cho writes, “No one could have imagined the situation at Mars Hill turning out the way that it turned out. When we first heard that the building would be available on the market, we met with their team and they expressed their desire to sell to a church if possible. They received a total of 10 offers – 9 from developers with tenants in tow and one from Quest. We weren’t the highest offer but we offered flexible conditions. They were true to their word for which we are grateful.”

The Worst Book Ever Written About Jesus –  Sadly, books like this are far too common, and often appear shelved at Barnes & Noble next to works more worthy of respect. Customers lacking discernment don’t know the difference. “For example, the authors argue that a celibate man in first-century Galilee would have been shocking, so Jesus must have been married. While overstated, we can follow their intended logic. But they also maintain throughout the book that Jesus’ marriage was so scandalous that it had to be covered up. So which was it? Was Jesus’ sexuality scandalous to his first followers or not?”

Frank Viola, The Songwriter – Who knew? And the song is good, though the tune is borrowed. border

Short Takes

Chris Rice once asked, "What if cartoons got saved?" Now Dan Pagoda asks, "What if cartoons were pastors?" Click the image to see all five.

Chris Rice once asked, “What if cartoons got saved?” Now Dan Pegoda asks, “What if cartoons were pastors?” Click the image to see all five.



December 26, 2014

Filtering Your Speech: Christians Using OMG and WTF

Other than a much more liberal use of the word ‘crap’ in the last few years, I am somewhat guarded in my speech, at least when there are ladies, small children, or anyone else present.

As a writer, I’m also very conscious of changes in language. So back a decade, I couldn’t help but notice the way the ABC TV show Extreme Makeover Home Edition with Ty Pennington encouraged the broadcast use of the expression, “Oh, My God!” The show’s final segment — called “the reveal” — would contain at least a dozen utterances of this phrase which, unless the participants were truly calling on God to give thanks for the new housing they were about to receive, amounted to a needless invocation of God’s name that I believe the third commandment is referring to.

The proliferation in print and texts of its abbreviation, “OMG,” unless it a reference to the Ohio Macrame Guild, is equally disturbing.

There are some lines I am very assured I will never cross, and speaking the OMG line in either form or using it print is certainly one of those lines. Still, I often find myself falling into an OMG mindset, where I don’t audibly say the words, but think either them, or something reflective of the spirit of them. Unless I am truly crying out to God — and I wonder how many of us today really cry out to Him — I shouldn’t allow that phrase to be part of my unspoken vocabulary.

But what do I mean by the “spirit” of that expression?

I can probably best illustrate that with another three-letter text gem, ‘WTF.’ If you believe this has something to do with a wildlife federation, then I envy you, since such ignorance is truly bliss. It means something else. (Go to the last letter for clues…)

WTF is somewhat of an attitude. It expresses a familiar kind of bewilderment, but is in some respects a statement of a kind of confusion or Twilight Zone moment that didn’t really have a previous equivalent in colloquial speech.

Which is why I was rather amazed to hear it in church recently.

No, it wasn’t uttered out loud — either as an acronym or fully — but the highly respected Christian leader I was talking to was clearly dancing around it. You could feel the tension of the self editing taking place. The words used were different, but the articulation was intended to convey the spirit of WTF. The attitude was 100% present.

For the reference, file away the phrase “Twilight Zone moment” when trying to describe something of this ilk.

Another point — he said, anticipating the comment — is that if we really believe that in all things God is working for our good, should we really ever experience WTF moments? If we are trusting, clinging and relying on God, while unexpected things happen, and while they do bewilder and confuse, should we embrace the WTF kind of attitude? (A friend of ours call these “sand in the gears” moments.) Aren’t these weird and wonderful things the cue for a “count it all joy” attitude?

And what about the idea that Christians are expected to “maintain a distinct identity” from the world? Should not our speech be a part of that?

OMG and WTF have arrived at church. I heard the former on a sermon podcast recently, and edgier bloggers aren’t afraid to use the latter. It’s not hard to imagine OMG being on the tongues of people at Sunday worship during the fellowship time after the service. Maybe you know people who use it regularly now.

And it’s just a matter of time before the language usage at church gets totally oxymoronic: “So she’s like, ‘I got you a present,’ and I open it and it’s a brand new Bible and I’m like, ‘OMG! …'”

And we’re not talking about teenage girls in the San Fernando Valley.

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.NLT

Romans 12:2Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.The Message

November 5, 2014

Wednesday Link List

You're not really showing up at the church potluck (or pot-blessed) supper unless you're showing up with a zippered casserole carrier inscribed with the verse, "Serve one another in love."

You’re not really showing up at the church potluck (or pot-blessed) supper unless you’re showing up with a zippered casserole carrier inscribed with the verse, “Serve one another in love.”

Places to go; people to meet!

We end today where we started last week; another movie parody poster from the Orange curriculum. Click the image for details.

Orange Curriculum Parody Poster 2

July 2, 2014

Wednesday Link List


A Happy Independence Day to our U.S. readers and a one-day belated Happy Canada Day to readers in the land north of the 49th. On with the linkage…

When not playing one of the 820 Solitaire variants while listening to sermon podcasts, Paul Wilkinson blogs at at Thinking Out Loud, edits the devotional blog Christianity 201, and provides hints of the following week’s link list on Twitter.

February 16, 2014

Mother T. on Prayer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 3:28 pm

Dan Rather: “When you pray, what do you say to God?”

Mother Teresa: “I don’t say anything. I listen.”

Dan Rather: “Well, okay…when God speaks to you, then, what does He say?”

Mother Teresa: “He doesn’t say anything. He listens. And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.

If someone knows a source for this, I’ll print it.

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