Tag: Thoughts

On Hurricane Sandy: Dealing with the Problem of Evil in a Technological Super Connected World

Image Source: causecast.com

Staying connected even when the news is bad

Published Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We exist in a technological world where Twitter and Facebook deliver first hand pictures and stories of disaster to our hands wherever we are.  As hurricane Sandy neared the east coast the last few days, people I know in England were messaging my wife and I letting us know of their prayers for our safety.  Though we live in South Carolina and were safe, we both have families in affected areas, and it was nice to be so connected.

At other times, however, it is quite surreal.  While people were posting scriptures and prayers for those losing power and struggling with the elements, others were joking about “Gungnam Style” dancing (a Korean gone global dance craze) which might be a rain dance, surmising that we’ve brought Sandy down on ourselves.

I suppose the disconnection between what we see online about disaster, and what we are experiencing brings about a bit of melancholy.  It is strange to be captured by something so big, yet feel no real effects in the actual world.  Though it feels like we, ourselves, emotionally, have gone through the tragedy with our brothers and sisters in Jersey and New York with this all access.  How are we supposed to take this all in?  How are we not to become overloaded by the gory details?  How much can we really help?

As workers at a church, we are not immune to these issues, and at staff meeting today, our group discussed how such huge storms seem to a type of evil in our world.  While we realize the natural world swirls and has processes that we seek to understand and find equilibrium with, we simultaneously have to grapple with the suffering disequilibrium brings.  Even with a weeks foresight the devastation is astronomical:  $20 Billion in damages and the priceless lives of 46 people lost.  No time for grieving, cleanup and repairs to this huge swath of humanity begins.

Some say that the storm is punishment.  They point to a sign of God’s judgment on these people, perhaps not particularly those hit, but America as a whole.  This same sentiments were expressed during the Haiti earthquake, the Asian tsunami, after Katrina, and in 9/11.  Being Methodist, my response to this is very Methodist as well.  The United Methodist Volunteers in Mission work in the midst of destruction, poverty and great need, and their reflections mirror my own, and in an article on their mission, they point to the theology of the Incarnation:

“At the heart of this theology is the clear biblical expression of our loving Creator God who, in the words of Jesus, ‘so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ (John 3:16-17) God is in the business of salvation, not destruction–offering healing and wholeness. God is about loving care, not supernatural punishment.”

In the midst of all the brokenness in our world, the Incarnation is God’s presence among us.  This was in the person of Christ, and in the Holy Spirit among us today.  We work to make God’s Kingdom a reality today – redeeming what was once broken and making it whole again.  In this mission we become more like God, as a people – humanity becomes stronger, and we exhibit God’s light in the midst of dark times.

While there is certainly evil in our own times, God is not here to break us further, but He is our Redeemer and we participate in this amazing mission to heal our world.

I downloaded iOS 6 – My Thoughts and First Impressions

Thanks to various tech sites, I was able to determine that Sept 19th would be the download date for iOS 6, the newest Apple iPhone operating system.  Each upgrade makes upgrades, and this one claimed to make 200 tweaks, so I was ready.

The first snag was that I needed 2.5 gb free to do the upgrade.  I had to delete some HD videos on my phone, but was able to make the space free.  As I waited for the download, I read at Gizmodo.com about what was supposed to be in the package.  I was excited about Passbook, interested in the Phone app upgrade, and was not excited to lost Google maps – I use that quite frequently.  Now, I’ve used it for two days now, so this is my first impressions.

I’ll start with the bad:

(1) Apple’s Maps, powered by TomTom and their own in house mappers, is not ready for solid use.  I will be using Google Maps mobile application until the Apple Maps app matures a bit.  I’ve read a lot about how it took Google Maps to get as good as it is now.  Well, I need it good now, so I’ll have a button added for G.Maps through html until that day.

(2) Facetime is touted as being able to used over 3G/4G cellular data rather than wifi only.  I went to add this feature, and the phone told me that I have to call AT&T to determine if I am eligible.  This was a minor inconvenience, so I thought, until I called and found out that I’d have to hang up, turn off my cell, a signal would be sent to my phone, and then I’d be called back.  The service in my area went out for a few minutes at premium hours, and I received a message after AT&T’s call center hours that they’d tried to reach me and would call back.  They didn’t, and I haven’t either.   I’m sure this will be great – once I figure out how to wrangle AT&T into getting this set up.  It really shouldn’t be this complicated.

That’s all I’ve really disliked, there is much more Good than bad:

(1) Siri is faster and more intelligent.  I noticed right away that the wait times have been cut drastically in waiting for a response, and there is so much more information at Siri’s fingertips.  I never liked Siri before, but I’m going to start using it more and more now – its definitely become more fun with movie info, sports stats and scores, and the ability to determine what I’m looking for and give me a range of info.  I like it much better.

(2) The phone app has been upgraded, and now there are more options when multiple people are calling.  The dialing screen is now more crisp and bright – which makes it easier to put in a number without having to think and stare too much.  I appreciate that.  It seems to manage texts and other simultaneous notifications a bit better now.  There were odd times prior to ios6 where lots of activity would confuse the phone.  The order of operations seems to be a bit more worked out – as far as I can tell.

(3) Facebook integration is wonderful.  I pulled off my contacts and Facebook Friend profile pics, so when someone calls, I see a picture now.  I know that there are privacy concerns since Facebook has access to your contacts, but that’s always been true anyway – most of my friends and contacts are on Facebook.  I also like how Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and ios 6 seem to be so seamless.  I can update one and the others immediately start talking to each other.  Part of this is due to the new timeline robustness, and the ability for other apps to plug in – but I’m completely for more integration, despite the differences of all the platforms – its all the same to me (its internet communication with different modes).

(4) Panoramic Photo – I know this is simple, and really doesn’t need explanation, but the ability to take an incredibly long shot of really beautiful scenes is something I’ve wanted for a long time, also, especially for group shots on big trips.  I’m thankful this new feature has been made standard.

Lastly, the “Meh” stuff that really don’t seem to make a difference but could be developed a bit:

(1) Passbook – This is a great idea, and I would love to have a place where all my gift cards, plane tickets, movie tickets, etc are all in one place – unfortunately, there are only a few apps that actually support this service right now.  The best likely being Fandango, and I plan on trying this out eventually, but the others failed to excite.  I also didn’t expect it to require the downloading of the other apps.  I definitely assumed that it would be a one stop shop.  At the moment you have to have Passport, download Fandango (for example), and then purchase in that app and then it should appear in passbook.  I haven’t tested this but I plan to.

(2) VIP folder in Inbox – Basically you can choose certain VIP contacts in your mail and this creates a super box for your urgent clients. This could be useful, but everyone I allow to have my main email is a VIP.  I don’t see myself using this too often.  If you’re the type with lots more spam – this could be a great thing, but I thought that’s what the Junk Folder was for.

All in All – I like the rebuild.  Biggest gripe is the Maps change, and if you really like that app, don’t upgrade yet.  If you have the iPhone 5, you have the new app anyways.  Its all still sleek and works better than any other phone I’ve played with – so be merry and enjoy your life with a little bit of tech.

Culture Stuff: My Thoughts on The Avengers Movie

To begin, I will say that if you are excited about The Avengers movie, have seen all the previous Marvel Superhero movies, and are wondering if it lives up to all the hype and whether you should see it or not – It does, go see it.  But why does it have appeal?  And why does it seem to have something that everyone can enjoy?

First, there is a collection of such a diverse amount of strong characters, that it would be hard not to relate to one of the heroes/heroines.  From the Black Widow to The Incredible Hulk, from Nick Fury to Captain America, there is a plethora of different types of characters each with different strengths and flaws all interacting on screen, teaming or not teaming up, in ways that sometimes produce awe inducing moments, and sometimes, you have to laugh and say “Oh, Hulk…you’re so…you.”

Second, the enemy epitomizes what we do not like about ourselves, and so there is a universal appeal towards defeating him.  The enemy, Loki, sees himself as “entitled” as a God.  He lords himself, and merely wants to be seen as the Great Ruler who “frees” people from their own “freedom”.  It is a terribly flawed statement, which shows how little he has thought it through.  What he really means is: I think I am better than everyone else, so kneel to me.  There is a great moment when an old man (possibly a Holocaust survivor), stands up while everyone else kneels to Loki, rejecting his “godhood”.  The Avengers movie is a case study in tearing down the wanton destruction a callous dictator can create in civil society.  I think that we don’t like the entitled part of ourselves, so we gain a bit of spiritual discipline when we set our hearts against the antagonist in this film.

Third, the last 30 minutes are explosive, but the setup is brilliantly maneuvered.  The film spends a good amount of time setting up the final battle royale.  There is something for everyone in this film (relationships, anger, self reflection, cool gadgets and toys, philosophy, etc.), and the characters spend a good amount of time realizing how they will not get played by the enemy, who has a plan, and how to defeat a seemingly invincible opponent at his own game.  I can’t give out too much away without this being a spoiler, but I will say that Captain America’s character impressed me even more, as he did a bit of theology (whether you agree with him or not), when he said, “There is only one God, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that,” concerning the enemy.  I love it.  There is another even more humorous moment that I’ll let you experience on your own.  In the midst of the explosive energy, the conversations keep the film grounded and help us think through how we would act under stress.  It is a good study in what we feel we need, especially as all people across the globe face bigger challenges because the future continues to come.

All in all – this film had me engaged throughout.  It was the first film that I feel that 3D actually worked well (possibly because it blended so well, I only noticed it a few times, and when I did I realized how much it added to the High Def, rather than being a gimmick).  Kudos to the Costume Designers, who did not make the film feel like a cartoon, and to those who did endless calculations and renderings to make the computer graphics seem like reality.  The seamlessness of the film, with only a few slow moments, make this movie one of my all time favorites, at least in the genre of Semi-Philosophical Action Movie.  Well played.  Well played.

Religion Can Be Beautiful – A Response to “Spiritual but not Religious”

Religion Can Be Beautiful

An edited version of this was published in The Bluffton Packet

A spoken word video recently made the rounds on Facebook called “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus.”  It was well rhymed and made some interesting points. It was so reposted (reposting is borrowing the video and sharing it with your friends) so often that NPR picked it up and had a representative from the Barna group talk about the non-institutional spirit of our young generation.  Certainly, this video is an outgrowth of something I remember people saying when I was young – “I’m spiritual, but not religious.”  I said it a few times when I was younger and I felt that it allowed me to be a “rebel” in the tradition of James Dean, but I could also love Jesus and read the Bible, both of which have always been foundational to my identity in one way or another.

Even a few years ago I would likely have felt at home posting this video myself, but since I have become part of the Methodist church, and have been part of a traditional church, I have found the trappings of “religion” to be like a beautiful art, a canvas in which the beliefs of people who have faith have placed their paint.  At one time I would have joined the rebel cry as young people throw off the old and bring in new styles of worship.  Not even “contemporary” worship as some people call it, but an even more progressive form of  loving Jesus that would be considered all action with very little program or form.  That seems to be the call of this video – more action.

As with any argument, there is an anti-thesis or I like to call it “push-back.”  Jesus himself pushed back on the institutions, which would seem to support the claims of this video, but it the issue is so much more complex than that.

As I read the scriptures, I do not see Jesus as the anti-institutional figure that he seems at first glance.  He spoke in the synagogues as an adult and even as a child he enjoyed being at the temple and talking with the religious leaders about his father, God.  In fact, Mary and Joseph had a scare when they, like many parents have, left Jesus behind after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Jesus in some degree felt at home in his faith.  He was also called Rabbi by his disciples, he spoke of paying your taxes to Caesar in respect for pagan authorities, and he died accepting the punishment for a crime he didn’t commit.

So why does Jesus seem like such a rebel?  He turned the tables at the temple, he broke wheat and ate on the Sabbath against the Pharisee’s interpretation of the law and he declared he was God – which went against all human comprehension.  But at the heart of his rebellion, it is not against religion itself.  It is against corruption of the heart which leads to destruction of the individual and society.

Read through one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and you will see that Jesus had a religion.   True religion is about orphans and widows.  Translated: True religion is about justice and compassion and love.  When people forget this, all religion (the expression of our faith) becomes hollow.

So now I would say, “I am religious because I am a spiritual being.  I ask God to make me pure so my religion remains pure as well.”

For your reference, I am responding to this video that went viral a few weeks ago:

Personal Review of Google+

Google as a search engine is a fortress.  Bing and many others have not successfully dented the dominance of Google as the major search engine of the United States.  Our language reflects it.  I tend to tell people to just “google” something if I can’t remember the web address.  Good for them.  They dominate common internet.  But something has been growing up alongside the internet.  Basically the gated communities of the world cyber-sphere, and the main one is Facebook.  Google can see Facebook’s dominion behind the gate growing larger and larger.  Within Facebook, there is an ultrapersonal way of organizing data and searching it out which is to seek out actual people and their profiles.  Having friends that feed you data, and Facebook having users that give them data on interests, is a huge money maker.  So naturally, Google must compete, and thus Google+

My thoughts:

I’ve been using Google+ since I got invited about two weeks ago.  It started slow as there was no one on that I really cared for and there was a learning curve with many of the elements.  As more people have joined, there has been a trickle of items in the newsfeed, but people are basically cutting and pasting what they’ve already posted in Facebook.  That is definitely not a draw to start moving over.  Facebook already has the masses, so going over to do something that I’m already doing doesn’t make much sense.  The general rule is that people will do what is most convenient.  Not good for google.

What they are doing right:

(1) The circles option has developed into a great way to make a work flow for a creative group I’m in.  There are three of us and we have had a hard time utilizing FB and email to get us motivated to write and do comics for our webcomic group.  Google+ had us easily and instantly sharing information and having conversations and posting new content/planning new ventures.  It has been a boom for us creatively.  The best thing about this is that it is seperated from the masses of other people who have joined G+ and havent begun to use it.

(2) They integrate a lot including on their Mobile App.  I downloaded the app and noticed that they’ve also put some features like Foursquare in there with location service and GPS location capabilities.  Looking through the simplicity and functionality of the mobile app was the first aha other than business flow, I’d had for Google+.  I think if they gain active people, this will be a plus.

What doesn’t work:

(1) The quasi-contacts from Gmail that have no faces are freaking me out.  I’m not sure where Google is going with this because so many people haven’t made Google Profiles yet.  It think that I shouldn’t be allowed to place contacts in my circles until they are actually Google+ profile made members.  It feels like a ghost town in the larger realm.

(2) The branding and feel are a bit gaudy.  The refined shades of blue in Facebook feel more soft and easy to spend time on.  Google’s Blues Yellows and Greens clash and make the place feel cacophonous.  I’m hoping for it to be more refined in the future.


Use Google+ if you are looking for another space to separate from the multitudes on Facebook.  G+ is a quiet place where you can make a small circle and use it for business/creative flows.  It works well that way.  The good news is that you can just have both tabs open and compare the experiences yourself.  Good luck.

First Three Days of Annual Conference – First Impressions

I’ve spent the last three days at the South Carolina United Methodist Annual Conference as a Lay Delegate.  When I heard that the position was open due to someone else who could not go, I jumped at the opportunity because I love governance and learning structures that build up the body and keep people working together.  I was elected at a recent Charge conference at our local church to serve and I went with only a small amount of knowledge of what exactly would be done.  I knew I would be voting on things: Especially on Health and Pension, a proposal to restructure the Connectional Ministry of the Conference and a report on Finance.  I watched the training videos, read the preconference materials and headed to Florence, SC.

So what exactly have we done in the first three days?  I’m glad to tell you that it has been incredibly packed full of business, preaching, worship and much else.

Each day flows a bit like this:

(1) Early morning worship with communion.

(2) Beginning of Business Session with a Vote on Who will be Delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

(3) A report on some ministry, board, or entity of the church which we approve by lifting hands.

(4) Perhaps a resolution is presented or a motion is presented and debated pro and con by the “House”.

(5) We vote again (being elected requires 50% of the votes) so votes are taken again and again until elections fill spots.

(6) We have lunch with the people we have met or know at the Annual Conference (or do a work lunch at Starbucks 😉

(7) Return for more business as above.

(8) Leadership Training – A pastor has been asked to speak on UMC Leadership (excellent speeches)

(9) Dinner

(10) Return for Worship Service (Praise Music: Traditional, African American, Youth Band, etc.), Preaching and an offering.

(11) One last vote – then dismissed to go home.

The Laity and the Clergy vote separately but at the same time on their delegates, and we (the laity aka non-clergy) have almost finished voting.  A fellow Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC member and friend Jeanie was elected today to Jurisdictional Conference and she was quite excited.

In all honesty – I am loving every minute of the Annual Conference.  Even the tedious moments are important because they give people voice and a sense that they are able to enact change and at the very least try to convince others towards a position or a movement.  I am personally impressed by the Bishop’s ease of control of the House with hundreds and hundreds of very diverse people.  The Robert’s Rules are order us well and the man in charge seems to know the rules well.  It keeps things moving along.  My favorite debate centered around Immigration and how we treat people who come to United Methodist Churches.  Though I don’t agree with everyone who came to the mic, I feel we received a different part of the picture and were able to vote on it. We actually went to casting paper ballots because the house was so evenly situated on either side of the issue.  These things energize me.  Governance is a beautiful thing when done well.

More as we go along.  I’m glad to be here.

On The Responsibility of Media and Entertainment

Hollywood,the big three networks ABC, CBS, and NBC alongside major newspapers have lost their grip on the stories that entertain and build our identities.  There have always been alternatives like Cable or popular magazines, but the internet has brought about new content providers ranging from College Humor sites, Netflix online distribution, Apple’s iOS itunes/app store, to The Huffington Post (which has so much web traffic and readership that it competes with The New York Times).  With so many newcomers and infinite possibilities, any sort of content you wish to get is likely available – legal or not.

Why is this important?  Plato once noted that whoever tells the stories controls the world.  One reason the United States is such a dominating force in the world is because we have been good story tellers.  We don’t just act out for justice and the America way – we tell the story and it gets picked up and told over and over again.  Whether people around the world like the influence of America or not, our stories are everywhere.  The world box office is a testament to American film telling stories.  Those in media realize how much influence they have and monetize it. When America worked to rebuild Europe, in order to fight the communist threat, The Voice of America was established to tell the story of America working with Europe, not against it.  It seems that story was somewhat successful and we tend to work together with Europe.

Media is an influence in all our lives and we all respond in different ways.  Though many feel that the stories they view, read and listen to do not affect them, this is often not the case.  Think about how often the language of a good book, or a quote from a movie comes back to you in a similar circumstance.  Or that line from your favorite song, resonating as you drive home, unable to be dislodged from your memory.  You are influenced.  Each person picks and chooses what they take in as well as how they react to  the stories that make them up.  Some are in acceptance and consume as much as they  can, some are not aware and are passive consumers, and some are resistant and react against culture.

But on the opposite end (not the end user of media but the producer) is the Soup.  The Soup is what Walt Mueller describes (paraphrased) as the mass of culture that we all swim though each day.  We are constantly translating messages and our brain files them where it needs them to be.  Those who make our culture and tell our stories are responsible for this Soup.  Some sips we seek out because we see a program we like or a trailer interested us in a movie.  Or a video game looked appealing on the shelf so we picked it up and experienced the journey of that story as the main character.  But the story itself was told by someone else.  It may be a choose your own adventure, but ultimately all the choices were written for us, which means that we don’t choose the overall matrix which we all experience culture within.  It just exists.  Like the movie Matrix, someone prepared it for us.

Over time, the law of diminishing returns has forced culture producers to move further and further into shocking territory.  Shows like Skins and pornographic horror and breaking away from societal norms to produce shock and awe entertainment have become the norm in this Soup.  At the one end, we have to be responsible for what we consume.  But the producers would be irresponsible if they thought that they had no responsibility at all themselves.

Certainly, good societies thrive on good stories.  Heroic tales of good and evil place us in the cosmos and help us form our moral selves.  Epic adventure films tend to be based on helping someone or something survive and our instincts are at  play as we care about others and seek justice in the best circumstances.  In fantasy we wish for how things were in the past golden ages, in sci fi we wish for a better future and in religious stories we find ourselves caught up in the Creator’s hands, loved and able to be restored as good after doing wrong. Inspirational programming such as The Biggest Loser, Extreme Home Makeover, and Undercover CEO all bring out good things.

But more and more, stories seem to be more about ignoring the good and just having a good time.  As if everyone is a Monad (a ball) bouncing off everyone else.  And they are just trying to entertain themselves until they die and it is “All Good” so long as no one else gets hurt.  Entertainment sometimes crosses lines where we are entertained at others expense.  Even if the characters are fictional, torture movies grip us in fear and we try to laugh afterwards as if nothing happens.  But we just saw torture of a human being.  Over time, the Soup of stories can be strewn with nothing but stories of being lazy, doing wrong to others, laughing at others expense, extreme sexuality or intense violence, death and destruction.  Eventually this affects a person, and their worldview becomes tainted by it.

There are obviously good stories as well as stories that make us worse for watching.  Then there are neutral little stories that inhabit our being and fill in the cracks with silly nonsense and joking around.  But as the entertainment complex grows, as producers of entertainment proliferate, I hope that there is thought to the whole that the individuals are creating.  Is what you produce mostly Good?  Do we even know what Good is anymore?  And how do we all project a great story to the world by the multitudes added up to make One Big Story.  When we look back on what we tell and consume today, is our story even worth telling?

What stories are most important to you? If you are a producer of media, how can you be responsible in producing your content?