January 17, 2021

Sights along the Road… (3/11/12)

Paul Bunyan, Bangor, Maine

Welcome to our weekly edition of Sights along the Road. During this Lent season, we are taking a break on Lord’s Day afternoons to take a good ol’ Sunday drive through some of the things that I’ve been reading, hearing, and thinking about in recent days. On these leisurely outings, we also pause to ponder a few interesting roadside attractions we see along the way.

I’m declaring today “Paul Bunyan Day” here at IM. There are dozens of statues and markers celebrating the mythical, giant tree feller across America, who first appeared in print in a story published by Northern Michigan journalist James MacGillivray in 1906.

It is said that Paul and his blue ox Babe were so large, the tracks they made gallivanting around Minnesota filled up and made the 10,000 lakes. The appetites of Paul and the other lumberjacks was voracious, and they ate so many flap-jacks the cooks couldn’t supply the demand. Ole, the Blacksmith, made a gigantic griddle — you couldn’t see across it when the smoke was thick. Sourdough Sam had fifty men with pork rinds tied to their feet skating around the griddle to grease it. And don’t forget Babe. For a snack, Paul’s ox would eat thirty bales of hay…wire and all.

You get the idea of why this delightful legend told through “tall tales” captured folks’ imaginations throughout N. America. Today we look up to Paul Bunyan on our travels.

• • •

In line with our discussions this past week, we will start with one of my favorite songs (and my favorite rendition of it). This is “Ready for the Storm,” by Dougie MacLean, here performed by Kathy Mattea with MacLean, Jerry Douglas, and others. Some of you may remember that the late Rich Mullins also recorded this great tune.


Paul Bunyan and Babe, Klamath, CA

Rick Phillips at reformation 21 has written a well-argued piece about the validity of public critique: “Four Reasons Why Public Critique Does Not Invoke Matthew 18.” Though his article was addressed to a particular dispute that is not of concern here, the idea of Christians utilizing public criticism is something we get asked about at IM all the time.

Phillips gives four reasons why those who speak publicly are subject to open push-back and why Scriptures such as Matthew 18 do not apply in such cases.

  1. Matthew 18 establishes a procedure for dealing with personal sins, not public debate.
  2. Just as private matters should be handled privately, public matters should be handled publicly.
  3. When an author happens to be an officer under confessional vows to the Church, writings that impact the application of those standards are a public, not a private matter.
  4. We must realize that teaching and publishing entails a public responsibility that invokes public scrutiny and criticism.

I will be using this well-stated, concise summary in the future to respond to those who complain about the acceptability of “judging” what others say in public, publish in writing, or promote through media.

• • •

Paul Bunyan and Babe, Bemidji MN

I enjoyed the article Trevor Lee wrote in Leadership Journal on practical lessons he learned from his first year of being a solo pastor in a local congregation. Here’s the list:

  1. Don’t ignore people’s expectations.
  2. Carefully choose your battles.
  3. Your job involves lots of “other duties, as needed.”
  4. Ministry is about relationships.
  5. Preaching matters.
  6. People want to love and respect you.

This is an insightful young man. Many of us didn’t learn some of these things until much later in ministry. I was particularly impressed by what he learned about preaching.

Preaching does much more than just help people learn more about the Bible. Preaching helps decide if they can trust me. Some Sundays I could tell that people somehow felt closer to me after the service. I’m not sure all that is at work there, but besides building relationships one-on-one, my preaching is what made the biggest impact in being accepted by the congregation.

It’s not that I’m a great preacher. I’m not. But I have done my best and asked the Holy Spirit to use it in the lives of the people.

In a sense, preaching is an act of pastoral care. I try hard to hear the Holy Spirit in my preparation, perceive where the people are in their lives, and preach truth in a way they can grasp. Preaching does more than transmit information; it creates a climate.

“Preaching helps decide if they can trust me.” That is a lesson some preachers never learn, instead thinking it’s all about the content or the ability to persuade. Pastor Lee recognizes that preaching is one way a minister relates to the folks in his congregation. It is personal, local, and idiosyncratic. It is of a piece with what happens between Sundays, when pastors have the kinds of conversations Trevor Lee describes in other parts of his article.

I also love that he learned that the vast majority of people in churches want to love and respect their pastor. There are always troublesome characters who are contrary and schismatic, but I have found them to be few and far between. Trevor Lee’s generous spirit that believes the best of the members of his congregation and is willing to work through issues and disagreements with them personally is to be commended.

How refreshing it is to hear of someone who is taking seriously what it means to be a pastor, and not just a “leader.”

• • •

Paul Bunyan, Akeley, MN

In an answer to a common inquiry, Scot McKnight explains how the concept of “justification” fits in with The King Jesus Gospel.

  1. The Story of Jesus is the central element of the Gospel.
  2. Salvation is the effect of the Gospel.
  3. Justification is one of the images used to describe what the Gospel effects.
  4. Like other such images, justification emphasizes certain things that are fundamentally true of salvation.
  5. In particular, justification is one way of explaining what it means that Jesus died and rose again “for our sins.”
  6. Other images bring out other aspects of salvation: redemption, reconciliation, liberation, ransom, etc.
  7. The proper response to the Gospel message — the story of King Jesus — is to repent, believe, and be baptized into Christ. When we do, we enjoy the benefits of the Gospel.

“Connection to the Messiah is the secret to the whole.” Scot has given us a helpful clarification here. “Soterian” approaches to the Gospel proclaim the “plan of salvation” and the focus is on the individual and his/her need to be “saved.” The King Jesus Gospel proclaims Jesus as the One who has fulfilled Israel’s story and has come to inaugurate God’s reign on earth as in heaven. The focus is on Jesus, and people are called to respond to him, the effect of which will be their salvation (including justification).

• • •

Paul Bunyan, Manistique, MI

Chris Castaldo says Protestants often get it wrong when they speak of the Catholic Mass, particularly the Eucharist. Three misnomers he hears all the time are:

  1. Catholics teach that Christ is “physically present” in the Mass.
  2. Catholics teach that Christ is Re-sacrificed at the Mass.
  3. Catholics teach that Christ Dies at the Mass.

Castaldo comments: “As a ‘mystery,’ the Catholic Mass is by definition beyond human comprehension; yet, when Protestants explain what happens in the Mass, we often get it wrong, propagating misnomers that directly contradict the explicit teaching of the Catholic Church. Here are the big three. If effectiveness in gospel renewal is related to upholding truth and avoiding straw men, these lessons should be noted.”

He concludes, “Fruitful gospel conversations require us to get the facts straight.” Agreed. They also require us to show a willingness to listen and extend a spirit of grace and respect, as he has done so well here.



  1. The last Paul Bunyan is actually in Manistique, not Mantique, right on US-2 on the way out of town.

  2. Orson Scott Card has a series of novels based on an alternate 19th century United States, where characters from American folklore such as Paul Bunyan are real and perform all their fabled deeds; the Tales of Alvin Maker series.

    I’ve only read a short story in an anthology, but it’s a refreshingly novel idea in fantasy – instead of Ye Olde Mocke-Mediaevale Worlde or the American-set but modern Urban Fantasy Chick Lit, it follows up on Manley Wade Wellman’s “Silver John” stories using native American (and Native American) legends and folklore.

    As for Chris Castaldo, I’m glad he is clearing up misconceptions; I’d never heard of No. 3 on his list, but if there are people who genuinely do think the Catholic Church kills Jesus every time Mass is celebrated… :O

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’ve only read a short story in an anthology, but it’s a refreshingly novel idea in fantasy – instead of Ye Olde Mocke-Mediaevale Worlde or the American-set but modern Urban Fantasy Chick Lit…

      Ye Olde Mocke Mediaevale Worlde = “Tolkien in a Blender”, “Elves, Dwarves, etc”

      Modern Urban Fantasy = “Celtic Urban Faeries, Celtic Urban Punk Faeries, Celtic Urban Edgy Faeries, waddaya mean I’m ripping off Mercedes Lackey, Celtic Urban Faeries…”

      I’d never heard of No. 3 on his list, but if there are people who genuinely do think the Catholic Church kills Jesus every time Mass is celebrated… :O

      No matter how crazy it is, there’s some True Believer out there who not only believes it, but has made it his God. Local drive-time talk-jocks call it “The Elvis Effect”, after a study years ago which showed that one in six Americans believe Elvis is Alive; i.e. there’s always going to be somebody.

    • Only when we are done praying TO statues….*sigh*

  3. That’s some real sweet pickin’ and singin’ by Kathy Mattea and crew.

  4. Randy Thompson says

    Chaplain Mike:
    Thanks for the Paul Bunyan statues. This truly is an embarrassment of roadside riches.

    The only thing that would be better is if one of these giant Paul Bunyan statues was one of a gorilla in a flannel shirt holding an ax and a volkswagen.

    Trevor Lee’s list is excellent, by the way.

  5. I feel right at home. I drove past the Paul Bunyan statue in Bangor only a couple of weeks ago. At 37 feet tall he’s bigger than he looks in the photo.

  6. I’ve deleted the “Florian” thread. It’s time to post these words of Michael from the FAQ/RULES page.

    I moderate assertively. I delete comments that are irrelevant, too long, off topic, selling things, pimping blogs and especially those that reject the Christian profession of other posters.

    A primary commenting rule is to not engage in attempts to convert other Christians to your tradition or away from their own.

    …Comments that denigrate the discussion itself or participants in the discussion will not be posted.

    You do not need to be obnoxious, mean or profane to be placed on moderation or banned. If your comments consistently are obstructive to the conversation, I will moderate accordingly.

    I have no problem banning commenters that offer no positive contribution to the discussion. I have a large audience and I moderate so they can have a civil discussion. I do not have any commitment to absolute free speech on my blog. I have worked hard for the success I have in this medium, and I do not share it or allow others to denigrate or manipulate it. You may participate, but I do not sponsor wars, slander, threats or pointless arguments.

    I am not a perfect moderator, so if you want to accuse me of being hypocritical or inconsistent, I already agree with you and it doesn’t matter. You won’t win the comment war.

  7. Robin Cranford says

    Thank you!

    • Double-Dog thank you!

      We can learn much from active questionings of each other’s reasons for our denominational beliefs, but not from hateful diatribes. (Even when they are ludriously false and/or meansprited!)

  8. Is Kathy married? Wait, I’m married….

    Hey, that is Danny Thompson playing bass. Remember, Danny of Pentangle fame? (i was in love with Jacci McShee also…)


  9. Got any stuff with Suzie Boggus?… not much of a country fan but boy I love her voice….

  10. I hope it’s not too late for me to chime in here. I used to be a regular IM reader but gave up last July when you had all those troubles with the website. Now I am working through all the past material and trying to get caught up again. As you can see, it’s taken me a while.

    At any rate, about public critique and Matthew 18: Underneath the idea that when a public figure says something that you take issue with you must first respond privately and directly to the person in question, as if it were a matter of personal sin as addressed in Matthew 18, is the idea that this person has sinned against you personally by saying something publicly that you take issue with. Isn’t this at least a little bit presumptuous?

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