Thinking Out Loud

March 18, 2019

One Part of the Mind Had Failed; Another Part Was Very Aware

Guest post by JD Van Allen

Last week I went into nearly every business downtown to put posters up for the fundraising campaign my business is doing. I had finished the south side of the main street and had crossed up to the north side. I stopped in a few shops and was approaching the drug store when I approached a man from behind who was standing still with a cane in one hand, a walking cast on the opposite leg, and a definite look of discomfort on his face.

We spoke for about five minutes, well he spoke mostly, I prayed for him in my head and wondered if my whole day would be spent standing on that sidewalk with him. He paused mid sentence — the pause wasn’t the strange part, he struggled to get every word out — the strange part was the change of expression on his face. He wasn’t fighting to find a word, this was from a different battle. He looked at me a while longer, I was about to speak when he said “I’m sorry” then paused again, this time looking for the words that used to come to his mind so freely. “No, I’m not sorry” he continued, with something almost like a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye. “You have talked to me for a long time, no one has done that” he was fighting through this sentence, it took nearly a minute.

He went on to express that no one had talked to him for his long since his mind started to go. but it was only five minutes, maybe less. Had no one actually listened to him for such a small amount of time?

I was shocked, my heart ached for this man. He finished by expressing his gratitude for letting him vent. He wasn’t someone who just complained all the time, he is someone who had a lot on his shoulders and who felt free for once.

He thanked me for listening and for helping him to feel free from that burden. We walked into the shop together and he was excited to tell the employees that I listened to him but of course they were not interested in waiting for him to share his story. I engaged in conversation with him before he really had a chance to notice. I didn’t want his lonely reality to sink in quite so quickly.

I had prayed for peace for him the moment we started talking on that sidewalk, he found peace, even if only for a little while…

…Please don’t ignore people like him. He was hurting physically and he was aware of his failing mind; something I can only imagine as terrifying. He doesn’t need the extra burden of feeling alone and rejected. Listen to the people who are hard to listen to because no one else will.

That was about 20 minutes of my day that were well spent; better than any other part of my day. Thank you for reading this, I hope that it helps challenge your perspective.

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Still in his early 20s, JD Van Allen is an adventurer whose travels have included a summer in Africa and a full year backpacking and working in Australia. He composes songs and plays guitar, piano and mandolin. He currently lives in Eastern Ontario, Canada, where he is rebuilding a house from the inside out.

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?

June 18, 2012

When Rejection is Perpetual

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:25 am

About a year ago I wrote a post about the fact that when it comes to how things appear on the socioeconomic ladder, my wife and I refuse to play the status game. We know that we’re excluded from certain social circles because we don’t drive the same cars, go to the same stage productions, or take our holidays in the same vacation hot spots.

But I also know that sometimes we’re excluded simply because we see the world differently, or hold views on church, or worship, or social justice which are different than everybody else. Have opinions. Will share.

Today, however, I want to write about another situation that can develop which is more systemic, and can affect people at all vertical levels and across horizontal spectra.

I’m talking about the situation that can develop where someone is an outsider.

Outsiders don’t experience overt rejection; they simply exist outside of defined groups. I understand this one best where it comes to blogging. Despite the growth of Thinking Out Loud over the past four years, I don’t fit neatly into the many Christian blog clusters out there, and would safely say that I am probably considered a bit of an outsider.

I sense it sometimes when I’m in proximity of established groups and subgroups; and I think that, because of our human longing to be accepted and to socialize, there are people for whom it matters more who experience marginalization more acutely.

A few weeks ago I attended an event where I noticed four couples gathered together who are a very well-defined group. Other people dance around them, so to speak, hoping to find a point of entry on the circle, and certainly their attempts at contact are not rebuffed,  but at the end of the day it’s always the same eight people. It’s a younger demographic than my own, but I’ll bet there are people who would love to be part of this micro-community, but would consider themselves outsiders where that group is concerned.

You can be an outsider in a ministry organization or in a community of Christian leaders; you can be in vocational ministry in a denomination but be considered an outsider; you can be a member of your church choir but exist somewhat on the periphery.

The difference between outright rejection and being an outsider is, to use the case of the church choir member as an example, you’re actually on the inside of the group, and yet your membership is almost secondary to being part of the nucleus of the group. You’re in because you met certain standards — you passed the audition — but you’re also in because you did not meet standards that would have constituted rejection. Instead, the exclusion is more subtle.

It’s like the Cheers TV show theme song. Outsiders score points for the first part of the chorus (“everybody knows your name”) but not the second (“and they’re always glad you came”) part of the chorus.

Now let me be very clear: Some people choose to be outsiders, and that’s a different situation altogether.

But those who consider themselves Christ-followers should try to smash down the walls of ‘outsider-ness’ at every opportunity. The questions that need to be asked are:

(a) Who is living out life on the periphery of sub-groups in our church that wish they could be more in the center of those group? and
(b) What are we doing as a church to facilitate more inclusion in various social clusters in our church?

May 28, 2012

Sometimes, The Christian Life is Just Plain Messy

My life is a mess. After forty-five years of trying to follow Jesus, I keep losing him in the crowded busyness of my life. I know Jesus is there, somewhere, but it’s difficult to make him out in the haze of everyday life. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a godly person. Yet when I look at the yesterdays of my life, what I see, mostly, is a broken, irregular path littered with mistakes and failure. I have had temporary successes and isolated moments of closeness to God, but I long for the continuing presence of Jesus.

Most of the moments of my life seem hopelessly tangled in a web of obligations and distractions. I want to be a good person. I don’t want to fail. I want to learn from my mistakes, rid myself of distractions, and run into the arms of Jesus. Most of the time, however, I feel like I am running away from Jesus into the arms of my own clutteredness.I want desperately to know God better. I want to be consistent. Right now the only consistency in my life is my inconsistency. Who I want to be and who I am are not very close together. I am not doing well at the living-a-consistent-life thing. I don’t want to be St. John of the Cross or Billy Graham. I just want to be remembered as a person who loved God, who served others more than he served himself, who was trying to grow in maturity and stability. I want to have more victories than defeats, yet here I am, almost sixty, and I fail on a regular basis. If I were to die today, I would be nervous about what people would say at my funeral. I would be happy if they said things like “He was a nice guy” or “He was occasionally decent” or “Mike wasn’t as bad as a lot of people.” Unfortunately, eulogies are delivered by people who know the deceased. I know what the consensus would be. “Mike was a mess.” 

When I was younger, I believed my inconsistency was due to my youth. I believed that age would teach me all I needed to know and that when I was older I would have learned the lessons of life and discovered the secrets of true spirituality. I am older, a lot older, and the secrets are still secret from me.I often dream that I am tagging along behind Jesus, longing for him to choose me as one of his disciples. Without warning, he turns around, looks straight into my eyes, and says, “Follow me!” My heart races, and I begin to run toward him when he interrupts with, “Oh, not you; the guy behind you. Sorry.”I have been trying to follow Christ most of my life, and the best I can do is a stumbling, bumbling, clumsy kind of following. I wake up mostdays with the humiliating awareness that I have no clue where Jesus is. Even though I am a minister, even though I think about Jesus every day, my following is . . . uh . . . meandering.So I’ve decided to write a book about the spiritual life.

When a decade later people are still raving about a book as though it were published yesterday, it’s a good idea to sit up and take notice. When people whose reading tastes you trust keep talking about that one book that you never got around to reading, it’s a good idea to check it out.

Mike Yaconelli was the co-founder of Youth Specialties, and therefore, by default, it’s magazine, the classic Wittenburg Door, a magazine that was very influential in my spiritually formative years. Sadly, a year after writing his signature book, Messy Spirituality in 2002, Michael was killed in a traffic accident.

I finished reading Messy Spirituality yesterday, and it’s significant to be blogging this fact on a Monday. We’ve all just come from weekend services where we interacted with other members of our  faith family, people who outwardly seem to have it all together. There’s a lot of posturing at church, and you’ll see better acting there on a Sunday morning than at any of the finest shows on Broadway.

But not all of us are perfect. Some of us are misfits. Some of us are tainted by sin. Some of us are broken by circumstances. Some of us are just plain lost and confused.

This is why Jesus came. This is why we needed a Savior.

This brokenness, our messiness, is not something to sweep under the rug or try to cover up with cosmetics; it’s something to celebrate.

Messy Spirituality is a book that reminds not-so-perfect people that we are loved and accepted as we are; we don’t have to clean up first to come to church or to come to him.  Through many anecdotes from Michael’s later career as pastor of a small church, and reminders of Christ’s ministry on earth, Michael weaved a tapestry that brought tears to my eyes several times.

This is a book that will appeal to readers of Brennan Manning, Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey and Wayne Jacobsen.  This is a book “for the rest of us;” those who find their spiritual life is, at times, simply messy. 

Read another excerpt from the book at C201

Messy Spirituality was published in 2002 in hardcover and released in 2007 in paperback by Zondervan. Unlike some review books here, this one was purchased by myself and is staying a part of my permanent book collection.

November 13, 2009

College Roommate Advice Wanted

Okay, truth time.   I grew up in a major city and was a commuter student during all four years of university.   Only towards the end of my senior year did I realize what I was missing.   Too little, too late.

So I wanted my son to have the complete experience and a late aunt was kind enough to remember Kid One in her will, paving the way for at least a year of residence.

A pre-admittance survey asked for personality preferences, and Kid One mentioned that he is fairly quiet and likes to retire for bed somewhat early, especially by college standards.   The idea was he would be given a roommate with similar likes and dislikes.

He was.

Words like reticent and taciturn don’t begin to describe the situation.  But then, Kid One noticed the guy was making connections with other people, but only engaging in the most essential communication when in the dorm room with my son.    Like maybe less than 200 words so far this semester.

What’s with that?

REJECTIONWhat started out as a personality trait is now emerging as rejection.   And that’s not a nice thing to do to anybody.

So to those of you who have been in the situation:  How do you get a very withdrawn and possibly hostile roommate to open up?   How do you break the ice?   Is mid-November past the point of trying?

And of course the related question:  As parents, how do you go from being ‘copied in’ on everything at the elementary and high school level to being on the sidelines once your kid enters university or college?    My son’s a nice guy.   I just want to call up his roommate and tell him that.

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