Thinking Out Loud

December 24, 2017

Noisy Night. Chaotic Night. All is Alarm. All is Fright.

Rob Lacey was an actor and street performer in England who performed in inner-city London and Manchester, and wrote a book called The Street Bible which was a kind of “highlights reel” of all 66 Biblical books and later became published in America as The Word on The Street. Before passing away all too soon he also wrote a more complete free-style paraphrase of a harmonization of the synoptic gospels that was published in both countries as The Liberator.

Because my wife had taken the time to type out the text for a Christmas Eve service we did, I wanted to include them here for all to read. She made some minor edits to it, and the poem is of other origin, which I can’t trace right now. Remember, this was written for inner-city youth in urban centers in the UK and makes no pretense to be an actual translation.


So how’d it happen? Baby Jesus. The Liberator? You ready for this?

I’ll tell you: his mum, Mary, is engaged to Joe. They’d not had sex yet, but – weird! She’s pregnant! Courtesy of the Holy Spirit.

Focus on Joe. A good guy, trying to do the right thing and he’s desperate to keep this news quiet. The locals would come down so hard on her. He’s working out how best to deliver the “sorry, but it’s off” speech – without the gossip grapevine crashing from overload.

He’s smashing the billiard balls of his best options around his brain, well into the early hours. Finally he drops off and God downloads a dream: An angel saying:

“Joe Davidson, don’t you chicken out of making Mary your wife. I’ll tell you why. ‘Cause it’s the Holy Spirit’s baby. She’ll have a boy, and you’ll put the name Jesus down on the birth certificate. Why “Jesus”? ‘Cause it means Liberator and that’s what he’s going to do for all his people…. liberate them from all the mess they’ve gotten themselves into.”

Joe wakes up and, yes, realizes it was all a dream. But he follows his Angel Orders to the letter and the wedding’s back on as soon as the baby’s born. Joe makes sure the birth certificate reads, “First name: Jesus.”

Meanwhile, in the depths of the Roman Empire, he-who-must-be-obeyed, Augustus Caesar, announces the Big Count. Caesar, the Big Cheeser, wants accurate population stats across the empire. Everyone is expected to trek back to their hometown for the registration.

So Joe Davidson sets off on the 130 km trip down the map, crosses the border and arrives in Bethlehem, Davidstown, in the south. He takes his fiancee Mary, who’s pregnant and showing. Three, four, maybe five days later they arrive and realize someone else is about to cross a border and arrive in Bethlehem.

Crisis! Her waters break! “No vacancy” signs in every B&B window. Decision. Mary has a ‘home birth’ in a livestock shed. She wraps strips of cloth round the baby and uses an animal feeding trough as a cot.

Noisy night, chaotic night
All is alarm, all is fright
Rounded virgin, now mother to child
Wholly infant, so other, so wild
Awake at an unearthly hour
Awake at an unearthly hour

Pull back to the fields outside the overpacked town, focus in on a local Sheep Security Team sitting through their night shift.

One of God’s angels turns up, with brilliant supernatural special FX packing the fields with God’s radiance. The guys are scared stupid.

The angel delivers his standard, “Don’t panic” line then hits them with, “I’ve got great news, great news to bring a smile to every shape of face on the planet. Mark the date in your diaries. Today over in Davidstown there’s a new baby born. Not just any baby – The Baby! The Boss, Liberator God himself, turning up for you in baby shape. You’ll know which baby – he’ll be wrapped up snug and lying in a feeding trough that’s caked with old animal grub.”

Cued to make their entrance on the last line of the breaking news, the whole angel choir turn up and blast out the song:

“Celebrate! Elevate! And on planet Earth, serenity. In your earthly home, shalom for all who have known God’s smile.”

Once the angel choir scoots back up the Heavenly HQ, the Sheep Security Team come out with, “Let’s check it out”. “Yeah, let’s hit the town.” “Search the whole of Bethlehem for this baby.” “God’s put us in the picture – let’s go!”

They leg it and, sure enough, they track down Mary and Joe, then find the baby in his makeshift cot. The next days they fill the pubs with echoes of what they’d been told about this baby. The public pulse is breakneck pace as “Liberator Talk” bounces round the walls of the town. The reactions range from amazed to – well, amazed.

The Sheep Security Team go back to work, talking up God for letting them in on the whole adventure.

And Mary’s reaction? She’s quietly storing away all of this in a safe place in her heart, bringing memories out when ever she has some space to wonder.

Advertisements

March 18, 2016

Doing My Evangelisitic Duty

This Yonge Street Mission fundraising album's cover shot sees the street in warmer days than described in today's article. See today's footnote for a song from the L.P.

This Yonge Street Mission fundraising album’s cover shot sees the street in warmer days than described in today’s article. See today’s footnote for a song from the L.P.

“A bunch of us are going downtown on Saturday night to hand out tracts? Wanna join us?”

The invitation seems so straight forward. I was a Christian youth leader and I should really not try to avoid these evangelistic opportunities. It was the 1980s and tracts were still considered a viable form of outreach. Plus, it was downtown Toronto and I was committed to urban ministry. I’d also been spending a lot of time preaching to the choir; it would be good to do some genuine outreach.

And so, on Saturday night at 10:00 PM, there I was, one of two lone figures standing on the corner of Yonge (pronounced young) and Dundas in the bitter cold. Looking several blocks north, the time/temperature sign flashed minus 20° and that was -20 Celsius, not -20 Fahrenheit. And yet somehow it was snowing. Usually in weather that cold you don’t get snowfall. Furthermore, it was downtown, so when the snow stopped falling from the sky it would start blowing from the office tower roofs.

Probably well over half of the passersby refused to take a tract. Some would take one and drop it a few feet up or down the street, but others, including those who had refused, would see the bright colors on the front and bend down to pick them up.

When it got too cold one of us would go to the Yonge Street Mission to warm up and someone else would take their place. Rob was a young Christian with zeal for Christ and a desire to get into conversations with people. Craig knew his Bible well, but was distracted by the prostitutes who used Ford Drugs as a base. (I think we were standing on their corner.) “I have a ministry to beautiful women;” was how he described it.

They weren’t that beautiful. They were career hookers; a plight made more pathetic by attempts to wear something skimpy on a freezing cold night. It was the only time in my life I really had direct contact with people who ply that trade, and they looked like the years of working the sex industry and doing drugs had taken its toll.

I should not have been out there.

I’m not saying that because of the weather, although this was a stage in my life when simply looking at the ice cube in a soda would mean catching a cold. I mean that I wish I knew then what I know now. (And will say that someday about what I’m writing now.)

I didn’t know the basics of apologetics. There’s no training course or prerequisite for buying some packages of tracts and launching out into the downtown core of a major city. I didn’t consider that you reason differently with a pseudo-intellectual than you do with a guy working on his doctorate in philosophy.  I didn’t know the basic objections people have to Christianity and how to respond to each. For that matter, I didn’t know my Bible all that well.

We also weren’t trained in the dynamics of people who frequent urban centers. The runaways. The psychotics. The addicts. The homeless. The wounded. We didn’t know what to say or what not to say. How to diffuse an argument. What to do when people asked us for money.

We also had no follow-up plan. I do remember some of the tracts being rubber-stamped with a phone number, or maybe it was an address. But I can’t remember — and this totally embarrassing to admit — who it was we claimed to represent, aside from Jesus. I know in one case it was a church, but one night the tracts were stamped with a different church, and we also encouraged people to go to the Yonge Street Mission to warm up or continue a conversation.

If someone had asked to be prayed for we might have been helpful, but if they said they wanted to accept Christ right then and there, you could probably knock us over with a feather. (Okay, we were better equipped than that, but it was a potential weakness which I had remedied in my own life one or two years after.) We weren’t trained to see the question behind the question, or know when they were sincere or when they were just baiting us.

It was a lot of zeal, a lot of desire, a lot of commitment (in view of the weather); but not a whole lot of anything else. We just showed up and went to work, oblivious to any other ministries working in the downtown or even the fact that our ‘spot’ on that corner actually belonged to the ladies of the evening.

So…good memory or bad memory?

It was part of my personal spiritual development. There are aspects of it that I can say I would do all over again, but certainly not without training, a better battle plan, and greater accountability. We’ll never know in this life what the fruit of that ministry was, but I think in the long run it was better to do something than to do nothing.

 

November 10, 2015

Realities of Urban Ministry

Filed under: ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:51 am
Ruth was one of three women who started a weekly dinner in a rundown motel that many people called home. The organization later morphed into something a little different from their original focus, but continues to serve the same community, including some of the same people.

My wife was one of three women who started a weekly dinner in a rundown motel that many people called home. The organization later morphed into something a little different from their original focus, but continues to serve the same community, including some of the same people.

by Ruth Wilkinson (circa 2008)

We found out tonight at Dinner that [our project] had been “announced from the pulpit” at a local church. Which — once I’d clarified that it was announced and not denounced — is very cool. It’s created some interest in people who attend that church, which I’ve always pigeonholed as very conservative. So, with my stereotype in mind, I’m wondering what they’ll think of the whole thing.

One of the team is going to organize a meeting at her house for those church-folks who are interested so we can give them an idea of what ‘we do’.

I’m tempted to tell horror stories and see if it scares them off. But I won’t.

This motel unit was home to one of the many people we simply called "our friends." The front window is broken the door only locks from the outside (with a padlock) and whatever carpeting or tiles ever existed on the floor had long vanished leaving only plywood.

This motel unit was home to one of the many people we simply called “our friends.” The front window is broken, the door only locks from the outside (with a padlock) and whatever carpeting or tiles ever existed on the floor had long vanished leaving only plywood.

But I will say this:

• If you can’t sit down for dinner with 30 people, without having someone say the blessing,

• If you can’t share a meal with someone who may or not be drunk,

• Someone who may or may not be mentally ill,

• Someone who may or may not be lying to you,

• If you can’t have a conversation with someone who is smoking without making faces and waving the smoke away,

• If you can’t hear someone use the F word as a verb and an adjective and a noun and an adverb, possibly all in the same sentence, without cringing,

• If you can’t laugh at a genuinely funny crude joke, and good naturedly rebuff a truly offensive one,

• If you can’t hug someone who may or may not have Hepatitis C or AIDS,

This may not be the place for you.

(But I hope it is.)

September 17, 2014

Wednesday Link List

T-Rex Eating Icthus Fish Eating Darwin Fish emblem

The Wednesday List Lynx still prowls the office here after dark.

The Wednesday List Lynx still prowls the office here after dark.

Welcome to this week’s link list to those of you who didn’t already have it automatically download to their phone.

My wife makes these. I didn't have a closing photo this week, so I thought you'd enjoy seeing the puppets in an international mood.

My wife makes these. I didn’t have a closing photo this week, so I thought you’d enjoy seeing the puppets in an international mood.

Paul Wilkinson failed to find a suitable Christian media link related to tomorrow’s historic separation vote in Scotland, but you can read him the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud or devotionally at Christianity 201.

September 10, 2014

Wednesday Link List

From DailyEncouragement.net -- "...It is a camp for displaced Christian refugees in Iraq (Click to enlarge). Note the English on the center tent proclaiming in a very dark place, 'Jesus Is The Light Of The World'."

From DailyEncouragement.net — “…It is a camp for displaced Christian refugees in Iraq (Click to enlarge). Note the English writing on the center tent proclaiming in a very dark place, ‘Jesus Is The Light Of The World’.”

This week we celebrate the ellipsis, its utility as connective device, and its overuse. In other words, many of this week’s links were related.

Each week we scour the web for stories of interest to Leadership Journal readers, however several of our “usual suspects” have put up pay-walls or added pop-ups that can only be described as obnoxious. The goal is to deliver news and opinion pieces with a minimum of interruption and solicitation. Suggestions are always welcomed, you can contact me on Twitter, or at Thinking Out Loud before 6 PM EST Mondays.

Paul Wilkinson is considered Canada’s foremost authority on writing a Wednesday Link List, and he doesn’t just say that because he writes his own footer for this weekly piece.

From theologygrams.wordpress.com, a site I suspect we'll be visiting many times in the future

From theologygrams.wordpress.com, a site I suspect we’ll be visiting many times in the future

July 22, 2014

Guest Post: Carlo Raponi — Sudden Urgency

Carlo Raponi is Evangelism Outreach Director with Kawartha Youth Unlimited, a Youth for Christ chapter in Peterborough, a city about 75 minutes northeast of Toronto, Canada. This is his second time at Thinking Out Loud.


There is not a day that I can remember where I’ve woken up alone in the world. Literally. I have no memory of any day of my life where I spent a whole day without ever encountering a single person. I think that if this ever happened it would carry with it a strange unfamiliar feeling that only gets seen in post-apocalyptic horror films. Instead, I, like all of us, am surrounded by people every day.

Most of the people we see are people we don’t know, many are people that we do; and some we only get to see on occasion. However they are all people that come into our spheres of influence. They are people with whom we have a chance to share the message of Jesus. Some of these encounters afford us time to develop His narrative slowly; other encounters require a faster and more succinct explanation of His hope. Either way, they all pass before us with a ‘best before’ date invisibly stamped upon them.

Last weekend one of the youth that attends The Bridge Youth Center told me that she’s moved to Toronto. She was only in town to deal with some court issues and then she would be returning back to the city. She is a girl that I have known for a few years now. When she first began coming in to the youth center she was a walking terror. Loud, boisterous and with a stubbornness that seemed incorrigible…she reminded me a little of myself. Perhaps that’s why we connected so well. But now she would be leaving, possibly for good. And so I apologized to her.

She asked me why I needed to apologize and I told her that in the years we have known each other I have approached the subject of our need for Jesus and who He is, but I never sat her down and REALLY challenged her. The ‘time’ never seemed right or the ’occasion’ didn’t present itself. There always seemed to be a reason that trumped the moment. Now she was leaving and I felt that I had done her wrong by not introducing her to the greatest thing she could ever possess – a relationship with the one who could change everything she knew about everything she knows.

I told her about a friend who’s younger brother had asked him the awkward question. He asked if he thought that the young brother would go to hell for not believing in Jesus. When the awkward reply came out as a ‘yes’ the younger brother’s response was, “…then if you love me, why haven’t you sat me down to tell me about Jesus?”

I told her that I owed her an apology because I wasn’t intentional enough to prove that I care by sharing this truth with her. The conversation that ensued was beautiful and honest, on both our behalves. It ended with her making a promise to find a church that she likes and to attend it 3 times. After that she could do as she pleases. With a smile she made me a pinky-promised that turned into a weird handshake of sorts (then I took this picture of it for proof).

the handshake

Now I must entrust her faith into the hands of God and the actions of others who I hope will do a better and more proactive job than I did. But I won’t forget this lesson. People pass in front of us every day. We’re surrounded by people all the time. There is a reason for this.

 ~ Carlo Raponi

 


 

Previously at Thinking out Loud: Three Conversations and a Wedding (March 2012)

March 21, 2013

The Other Side of the Megachurch Equation

Megachurch motivational

While we love to celebrate all the good things that are taking place in some of the larger churches here in North America, on Tuesday night I had a brief conversation with a pastor whose church represents the other half of the megachurch equation.

His church is located in a rural area that has not seen any growth in many decades. Urban sprawl from nearby towns is still decades away, if it happens at all. Many in the surrounding farms have retired; they winter in Florida; health keeps them from going to church; and many have lost interest in organized religion or religion in general.

If any young families have located to the area, they are more likely to drive to a nearby church which, although nowhere near the definition of megachurch, picks up young families like your vacuum picks up dust and dirt.

This pastor’s church however stands in contrast. The last time I visited — about six years ago — there was no sound system.  I don’t think they had a photocopier in the office, either. Nearly two centuries of tradition doesn’t draw a crowd. He remarked that the congregation is aging, as is he. Ceding the church to a next generation pastor and next generation people really only works in urban centers. The Michael Frost stories can only be replicated in so many locations; I’m guessing about one in a hundred has the right combination of facility, leadership and potential parishioners; just as lightning only strikes in certain random places.

The difference here is that the pastor was real not abstract; he was standing directly next to me, and I know a handful of families — albeit all older families — who attend this church. I can imagine how it feels to think that sometime in the not so distant future this church, which once played host to decades of different types of ministry to children, teens, young adults and mature adults, will be converted to a community center, or a bingo hall, or an antiques shop, or someone’s house or be razed altogether. Or maybe I can’t imagine how it feels to know that a place where generations met with God faces being decommissioned.

Megachurch

Other than the Roman Catholic Church and certain Episcopalians, the parish system — whereby you attend the church in your immediate community —  is dead. In a link story yesterday, we reported that at least 600,000 Americans do a ninety minute church commute. That’s an hour and a half  in metric time. People who chauffeur their kids to soccer and skating and cello lessons have no qualms about driving a longer distance to get their kids into a good midweek program at a church with a solid Christian Education department.

Of course, that’s not the whole story. There is also the general decline in church attendance. The entry of North America into a post-Christian era. The effect of shift work on church attendance. The effects of health on older members. The growth of the megachurches is not entirely always transfer growth, but it is a transfer of potential members to the house of worship where critical mass has been attained, where a crowd draws a crowd.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Mega-Church Bus from Sacred Sandwich

August 29, 2012

Wednesday Link List

This week’s links include:


1 Be sure to click the link inside to the .pdf of the actual pamphlet he created. I wonder how other preachers and evangelists would fare if their language was under the microscope in this manner?

2 It could be argued that this website exists only for the convenience of the people in the church’s local community, but ‘online church hopping’ is becoming a global phenomenon. True the address is actually there in plain sight, but the usual maps and directions escaped me after ten minutes of searching. If I had just moved to the area…

3 This link is valid until after the next show is broadcast, probably tomorrow (Aug 30). There are versions of the song elsewhere on YouTube but this one had the lyrics.

July 13, 2012

Conversations with a Street Preacher

Nathan Colquhoun is one of the original Canadian Christian bloggers, going back to the Fall of 2004.  He lives in Sarnia, Ontario which is the Canadian city opposite Port Huron, Michigan; so we’re talking the extreme western end of the province of Ontario, and a few hours north of Detroit.  While he works in urban ministry in downtown Sarnia with the Free Methodist denomination, he is more widely known for organizing a number of conferences that have drawn people from across Canada and the U.S.

The interesting thing about the exchange he had with a downtown street preacher, is that both parties were willing to engage in writing; which permits us a window into the conversation.  I’ll just leave the intro there, and let you pick up the rest in context…

June 9, 2012

Weekend Link List

Breaking News!

Two major staff transitions at very influential churches to report today:

  • Shane Hipps,  who only recently succeeded Rob Bell as teaching pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids will step down as soon as the church finds a permanent replacement. “I knew instantly my internal shape did not fit the role they created.  But I had to ask the question, is this something God wanted me to change about myself?  Or was I simply not tall enough for this ride?  That is a question easier posed than answered.” 
  • Tony Jones’ response: “While I can understand the Elders’ decision to move in a more conventional direction — with a pastor who does the majority of the preaching — it seems odd that this person will report to the executive director of the church. It makes you wonder: What gifted preacher would come to Mars Hill without also being able to lead the staff?”

And now on to the rest of today’s links.

  • Church break-ins are nothing new, but sixteen in one county of one state just days apart?
  • After years of being told why men hate going to church, we learn that boys hate going to Sunday School.
  • The tour bus of Sanctus Real was involved in a fire early Wednesday morning, destroying the entire bus and resulting in the band losing all of their personal belongings. 
  • Prince Charles dropped by Toronto’s Yonge Street Mission on his recent Canadian tour to hear how charities and businesses are working together to create employment opportunities for young people. (Personal note: The YSM coffee house was the first place I performed as a Christian music artist.)
  • Author and televangelist Creflo Dollar was arrested early Friday on charges involving the choking of his 15-year-old daughter. He was taken into custody at his home and charged with simple battery and cruelty to children.
  • In the last 12 months, over 17 million American adults who don’t regularly attend worship services visited the website of a local church or place of worship according to a recent study.
  • Popular teen’s and women’s author Dannah Gresh on why she’s passing on the opportunity to read Fifty Shades of Gray.
  • A military chaplains’ organization is speaking out against a lesbian ceremony held at a U.S. Army chapel in Louisiana. “While the ceremony was not a marriage, it is clear that this was in fact a marriage-like ceremony…”
  • New York City Pastor and author Tim Keller offers fellow-pastors a behind the scenes look at the ministry philosophy behind Redeemer Presbyterian.
  • Veteran Christian blogger Bill Kinnon joins a disturbing number of people who “no longer” believe in the inerrancy of scripture.
  • Your friends in youth ministry might want to know about this four-week, interactive discipleship program for new Christians.

Devotions Department: After a week at what our British friends would call “the seaside”  Stephen and Brooksyne Weber offer devotional thoughts on some older hymns inspired by the ocean.

Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.