Matthew Paul Turner’s Churched: A Review

Next up for review, courtesy of WaterBrook Press, is Churched: One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess by Matthew Paul Turner. Turner is a speaker, author, and former editor of CCM Magazine. Churched is written as a memoir of Turner’s growing up in a independent fundamental Baptist church.

In what will feel familiar to anyone who has been around that sort of church, Turner tells stories about dressing the part (complete with clip-on tie) and getting his first “Baptist haircut” (only a flat-top will do!), paints pictures of weird Sunday School teachers and loud, aggressive preachers, and who can forget the weekly altar calls? The stories hit a humorous note and manage to recount the frustrating times without coming across as cynical or cutting. In chapter 8 he recounts a third-grade Sunday School teacher named Moose teaching about hell:

[One morning] he looked at us and screamed, “BOYS AND GIRLS, DO YOU KNOW HOW HOT HELL IS?” He was serious, as if speaking to a room full of Christian meteorologists. “DOES ANYBODY HERE KNOW?”

As soon as Moose asked the question, I looked at my friend Angie. If anybody in our Sunday school class had visited hell and remembered to take a thermometer, it would be her. Not only was Angie always well prepared and organized, but she also claimed to make frequent visits to farr off places when she slept. One time, during a nap, we heard her mumbling in tongues. When she woke up, she told us she had taken a vacation to Montreal and been able to speak in French. When she saw me looking at her, she raised her hand.

“Mr. Moose, the temperature of hell is 666 degrees,” said Angie with the enthusiastic confidence of a demon. “Everybody knows that! Or should.”

I thought her answer was brilliant – possibly even correct – despite the fact i never believed she’d gone to Montreal.

Moose grew quiet. He didn’t tell Angie she was wrong, but he didn’t tell her she was right either. He just walked over to the door and shut off the lights. Moose’s Sunday school helper, Penny, placed large sheets of fabric underneath both of the doors to block the light coming in. The room became almost black. Moose stood behind his pulpit and found his Dollar General bag.

“This morning, I want to talk to you about hell.” His voice was quiet and low. He wanted it to sound spooky, and it did. “What’s hell like? It’s black down there. Much blacker than what you’re experiencing right now. Imagine a black so thick you can almost feel it. That’s what hell is like.”

I heard Moose rummaging through his paper sack and then the distinct sound of a Play button being pushed on a tape recorder. The crackling noise of the tape began. And then voices.

“It’s hot down here!” said the tape recorder. “We are thirsty! Very thirsty. We need Jesus.”

“Do you hear that, boys and girls?” asked Moose. “That’s what you would hear in hell. There would be a lot more of them, though. And some of the voices you wouldn’t be able to understand because they’re from other countries.”

While I assumed Moose was right, that his tape of sound effects could have been a live audio recording of hell, I was also convinced that if I closed my eyes during the church fellowship time, when a long line of Christians waited for Ho Hos and fruit punch, it might have sounded similar.

Turner’s stories are amusing and will provide laughs, grimaces, and knowing nods along the way. I felt like the story ended too soon, though. I would’ve liked to hear more about how Turner found his way out of the fundamentalist culture and where he is now. Still, it was an entertaining little book.

You can purchase Churched from Amazon.com.

4 years, 1001 posts

Four years ago I started this thing called blogging, not, as they say, with a bang, but with something more akin to a whimper. Since then the blog has relocated twice (from rmfo-blogs.com/cakeboy to thehubbs.net/chris and finally to chrishubbs.com), undergone several theme makeovers, and has generally featured relatively mundane commentary on life, church, politics, and whatever else is on my mind.

Thanks to those of you who stick around to read my stuff, and thanks even more to those who interact in the comments. I wonder what this place will look like four years hence?

Links for 2008-10-13

Things I’ve linked recently:

  • You can never go wrong with Richard Wayne Mullins.
    (tags: cjh_comment )
  • The people who are responsible for defining the culture are not deliberately doing so. They do not wake up in the morning and decide, "Today is the day I will steer the culture of the company to value quality design".

    They just do it. The individuals who have the biggest impact on the culture and company aren't doing it for any other reason than they believe it is right thing to do, and if you want to grow in this particular company it's a good idea to at least know who they are and where they sit. You need to pay attention to this core group of engineers because as they do, so will the company.

Rainsoft of NE Iowa: A follow-up

A few weeks ago I wrote about a bad experience we had with an in-home sales call from Rainsoft of NE Iowa. I wrote the rant, emailed it to every Rainsoft of NE Iowa email address I could find, and that was that. Both of the email addresses I found for Rainsoft of NE Iowa bounced, and Rainsoft corporate doesn’t list an email address on their website, so I figured that was the end of it.

Then last week I got a phone call from Terry Bonik, who owns Rainsoft of NE IA. He had been notified of my blog post earlier that day, apparently by someone from Rainsoft corporate. In summary, he expressed these details:

  • He apologized profusely for the bad experience.
  • He told me that the saleswoman who visited our home has worked for him a long time and has never had another complaint like ours.
  • He agreed that three hours was far too long a visit, that they typically are only an hour in length.
  • He objected to my characterization of their giving us bottled water to taste but then not advising we buy the drinking water filtration unit as a “bait-and-switch”. Usually, he said, people do buy the drinking water filter, and so that’s a sample of what they would get. Our case just happens to be the exception, since we have pretty good water here in Hiawatha.
  • He volunteered to send me a $100 Home Depot gift card in hopes that it would help remedy the situation.
  • He asked if I would be willing to take my blog post down. I told him I’m not in the habit of taking down blog posts, but I would be willing to post an update on the situation. So here we are.

As I told Mr. Bonik on the phone, I rarely complain like this, and when I do, I even more rarely expect a response. I was quite pleased to get a response from him and was happy that he included some literature about the Rainsoft products. I don’t know how soon we’ll be in the market for a water treatment system, but I will add Rainsoft back to my list of firms to consider.

Now… I wonder if it’d be too forward to see if Chris Hubbs Design could be of any help for his web-hosting issues? 🙂

The Church Search, Week 1

Yesterday morning we did something we haven’t done in a couple of months now: set our alarm on a Sunday morning, got up, and got to a morning church service. (Yes, we have been to church in the past two months… but Imago meets on Saturday nights.) As I noted on Saturday, our first stop was Stonebridge Church. Stonebridge is an Evangelical Free church with an average attendance of just over 600, which, by our standards, is a large-ish church. Stonebridge just finished building a new facility; yesterday was their second Sunday in the new building. They hold two services each week, and we attended the earlier one (9:00) on Sunday.

First Impressions

  • They had a parking lot attendant to point people to the right row for parking. That same attendant was handing out, to folks walking in, 3×5 printed cards describing the traffic flow of the parking lot to reduce congestion between services. My logistical wife’s heart was warmed.
  • Inside the door, the foyer was quite busy – lots of folks milling around, talking, drinking coffee. There is a hospitality booth inside the door on the right where they had free coffee and cookies, and a booth marked “Guest” something (I forget what, exactly) a little further into the foyer.
  • It took all of about three seconds of us standing there, taking in the scene before a man came over to greet us, introduced himself, asked if we were visiting. We said yes, and he asked if we’d like to go find the children’s ministries for our girls. His wife then joined him and they walked us over to the children’s area where we signed in our kids, met their Sunday School teachers, were handed pagers so we could be buzzed if there were any issues. They were obviously still working through issues with the new facility and procedures, but they were doing a good job.

Music

  • Stonebridge has a rather large worship team led by a guitar-playing pastor. They had six vocalists, two guitars, a bass, and two percussionists. (A rather uncomfortable-looking pianist joined them for one song.)
  • On a whole, I liked the setup; there were enough vocalists to give it a solid, group sound. The musicians were fairly solid, and the music minister was obviously quite talented.
  • The music minister has a computer monitor/mouse right on the stage, which he was referencing a few times. At first I thought it might just be displaying the lyrics, but eventually I came to conclude that he was, a few times, turning on a track of some sort to go with the worship team. Not sure how big a fan I am of that, but it was seamless, so, good for him.
  • During the first couple of songs, the congregational singing was fairly weak. I knew the songs, so I assumed the congregation should as well. However, the music minister said something about one of the songs being “unfamiliar”, so maybe he was just springing new stuff on the congregation. When they sang a couple more familiar songs after the sermon, the singing was strong.
  • Overall, the songs were pretty solid, though I really would’ve loved to have another hymn dropped into the set somewhere. Still, I won’t judge it on a single week.

Message

  • The senior pastor is preaching a series from the Psalms, which to my mind isn’t an easy task. Sunday’s passage was Psalm 8. I felt like he did a good job of taking David’s psalm of praise and showing us how we could apply it to our lives. He pointed to the several passages in the New Testament that refer back to Psalm 8, too. The sermon was about 30 minutes, didn’t feel too short or too long.
  • The pastor made an effort to bring current events into the sermon, referencing the economic situation a few times, to decent effect. He brought the Gospel into it near the end, which was welcome. There was no “altar call”, but he invited anyone who wanted to talk further to come down and chat with him after the service.

Children’s Ministries

  • Stonebridge has Sunday School for children of all ages (and perhaps adults, too – I’m still fuzzy on that) during the 9:00 hour, and then has a sort of junior church for Kindergarten and below during the 10:45.
  • In a surprising, but welcome, turn of events, both girls’ Sunday School classes were taught by men; Laura’s by a grandfatherly type, Addie’s by a guy somewhere near my age. Both classes had additional helpers, and we were told they rotate parents through the class, too; if your kid is in there you’ll be asked to just show up as a helper once a quarter or so. (As far as I’m concerned, that’s a FANTASTIC strategy, on several levels. Well done!)
  • We didn’t get much out of Addie about her class, but Laura was quite talkative about hers. First, though, all we heard was that “they needed someone to be a princess, so I raised my hand, and I got to be the princess!”. We were rather confused. Finally, she provided some more background: “most of the other kids were crocodiles, and there was a baby in the river… ’cause we were talking about Moses!” Ah, it becomes clearer!

People

  • I was impressed by the friendly people at Stonebridge. The greeters at the door smiled and shook our hands on the way in, the folks who showed us around were quite nice as well. As I was waiting for Becky at one point, another woman came up to greet me, saying “I don’t think I’ve met you…”. As we talked, she acknowledged she was hedging her bets, because they’ve just compressed from three morning services (at the old facility) to two, so some of the faces at the new services are unfamiliar.
  • I ran into a couple people I knew from work. Always interesting to encounter those folks in a quite different situation. Gives you some new perspective on them.
  • In the oddest twist, we looked across the sanctuary to see a couple who are friends of ours from Noelridge. We had a very “what are you doing here?” moment after the service.

Observations

  • One of my concerns going in was the big new building. Have they really spent their money wisely? Have they gone into lots of debt? I don’t have an answer on the debt part, but I was suitably impressed with the design and economy of their facility; they appear to have spent the money in places where it was needed without going overboard.
  • Sitting in the sanctuary (which seats about 500) I could easily have brought myself to believe I was sitting in a much larger auditorium. I had to look around and remind myself it wasn’t that big, and there weren’t that many people.
  • The sanctuary could really use some more helpful aesthetics. I’m not complaining about the fact that it’s obviously a metal building and you can still see some girders, bolts, ventilation ducts, and cables up in the ceiling; I’m more disappointed that there was nothing on stage to give you any indication it was a church. There were a few banners in the back of the sanctuary, but nothing on the stage. From appearances, I could’ve just as well been in a high school auditorium. I’ll give them a little slack on this one – they’re only a few weeks in to using their new facility. If they get to Christmas and the stage is still just as bare, then I’ll have some more serious questions.
  • The Young Adult pastor is a dead ringer for Jeff Holland, and even dropped a “y’all” into his talk during announcement time.

Overall, we had a quite favorable impression of Stonebridge Church from our first visit. We’re planning on going back again next week – one week is definitely not a large enough sample on which to make decisions.

The Church Search, Week 1 Preview

Well, tomorrow morning we officially begin our look for a new church here in the Cedar Rapids area. We’re starting at a church called Stonebridge, a medium-sized Evangelical Free church on the southwest side of town. They’re just on their second week in a new building, which actually didn’t affect our decision to try them out… if anything we’re tentative, figuring that it’ll take them a few weeks in the new building to hit stride and get the kinks worked out.

I’m surprised by how nervous I am about visiting a new place tomorrow. I know, I’m an engineer, I don’t do change well. We’ll just pray that it goes well and that God gives us some clarity in the upcoming weeks and months as to where we should land.

Listening

Thoughts from multiple discussions over the last week:

Most of the time, when people come to tell you that they’re frustrated or upset with you (be it your spouse, a friend, a church member, etc), what they’re looking for first of all isn’t a solution to the problem; what they first want is to be heard. Down deep they know that you love them and want the best for them, but if you go immediately into problem-solving mode without having first stopped to really listen, instead of helping the situation you end up reinforcing their unhappiness.

It’s hard to just keep your mouth closed, listen, and not immediately be defensive, but quiet listening and acceptance (not necessarily accepting the fault, but accepting that the hurts are real) will accomplish much.

I still have plenty to learn in this regard.