Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

Highly Illogical

March 27, 2020

Sometimes it’s the little things that are inspiring and surprising.

As a casual Trekkie and somewhat more than casual admirer of J.R.R. Tolkien, I found a curious blending of the two a few years ago after the Star Trek movie reboot.  Namely, a very delightful if slightly corny Audi commercial starring the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, and his reboot alter-ego, Zachary Quinto.  It’s a cute commercial but I never understood the song Nimoy was singing.  I thought it was just a nonsensical sort of thing to compare his outdatedness with Quinto’s more with-it persona and car.

Now I find out  there’s a history to what Nimoy is singing about Bilbo Baggins.  A history that goes all the way back to 1967 when Nimoy, in addition to starring in a new series called Star Trek, was releasing musical albums.  Two at this point.  And he sang this original song called The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins on one of his albums, and then lip-synced it for a campy TV show during the summer of 1967.

Mind blown.  I respect the Audi commercial even more now for their attention to detail – even a detail many would miss!

 

Contributing in the Time of COVID-19

March 26, 2020

I’ve been struggling with what I have to contribute during this time of COVID-19, social distancing, and the temporary  suspension of public worship.  A lot of churches are recording or streaming worship services.  Many of them seem to be larger congregations with a fair amount of technical resources, staff, and worship resources.  I’m sure you can find pretty much any style of worship from highly liturgical to very contemporary.

In light of this, the idea of recording a full worship service which quite easily could just be me and perhaps a musician seems superfluous.  Are people going to sing solo at home?

My particular gifts – such as they are – lie in preaching and teaching.  So thus far I’ve focused my energies on how to provide these gifts to my people (or at least most of my people) via the Internet.  While worship is comforting, it seems somewhat odd to simply broadcast it being done without anyone participating.  Corporate worship is just that – corporate.  It is the gathering of God’s people together to receive the gifts of God in Word and Sacrament and respond in prayer and praise.  Trying to replicate or imitate a gathering for people quarantined at home is complicated at best, and perhaps misguided at worst?  I’m struggling to figure my way through it.

Teaching can be done through the Internet, asynchronously.  I did that professionally for many years, and a Bible study is not much different in that respect than an online lecture.  Likewise a sermon can be streamed as a sermon – while delivered to a group of people – is listened to individually.  It is crafted with a group of people in mind (and sometimes with specific individuals within that group in mind!), but it is listened to by each individual person separately.  Not necessarily physically separate, but it is heard by individuals.  So it can be recorded and listened to at home as well.  Opportunities for interaction can’t be duplicated unless you have some sort of interactive medium for that, and I’m going to experiment with Zoom to that end tomorrow hopefully.

I suppose it’s major events like a pandemic that force the Church as a whole to grapple with these questions as doing what we’re used to doing becomes impossible or problematic.  God’s people need to be reminded of his grace and mercy even in a time of fear and sickness.  We need to be encouraged to not let our fear overwhelm our opportunities to love our neighbors.  We need to have our focus continually refocused on what our hope is, the return of our Lord.  Worship is one means of doing this, but it seems weird to ‘pretend’ to worship together when we really aren’t.

That’s not meant to be an indictment of those who are recording or live-streaming their worship services.  It’s just me thinking out loud about all of this and trying to figure out how  I respond as a shepherd during this time of isolation.  I’d love to hear other thoughts on the subject, if you’re willing to share!

On Considering Death

March 25, 2020

Thanks to Jo Anne for sharing the following C.S. Lewis quote:

“How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

As I began verifying the quote it was quickly apparent it has received a lot of Internet attention in the past several weeks.  Many people are rushing to caution against interpreting C.S. Lewis incorrectly and thinking he would encourage us to not take precautions against COVID-19.  How quickly we want to interpret things to support our point of view or discourage competing views!

Rather than go this direction, I’ll offer this observation.  Lewis lived in a time when mortality was a much more real thing.  Not that people have ceased dying since the mind-20th century, but certainly our familiarity with death has continued that drastic decrease already underway in Lewis’ day.  As he points out aptly from history, death has long been an all-too-familiar companion to vast majorities of people.  Glancing through history books where the sweep of empires roils back and forth through the pages should give ample evidence death was more common and more brutal than we are accustomed to thinking of it these days.  Lewis himself served in World War I and lived through World War II.  He understood firsthand what it looks like when millions of people suddenly encounter death.

Now, death is an anomaly in the West.  At least death before a certain age.  Now we presume death is something primarily for the unfortunate few with pre-existing conditions or for the elderly.  We hide death away in sanitized rooms with strict visiting hours and palliative care to mask the reality of death for those who would prefer not to face it head on.  The ever-increasing average life span in the last century has lulled many people into a false confidence that death may – for now – be an unfortunate eventuality, but  we need pay it little mind until we are of a certain age.

Frankly our secular culture demands this.  If there is nothing more to life and existence than a random assemblage of atoms for an infinitesimally small period of time and then nothing but a rather swift dissipation, then this life becomes extraordinarily important.  Ironic, as we insist life is random and without meaning that we should cling to it all the more tightly!  Yet this is who we are.  Enlightened materialists unable to cope with the cold reality of the meaninglessness we have clothed our lives in, yet scoffing at the foolish theists who insist on the nobility and meaning and purpose of our bare, unadorned nakedness.  It is not what we accomplish that gives our lives meaning, they dare to say, but simply that we are.  Silliness, of course.  And our culture returns to ignoring death as long as possible, studiously occupying ourselves with any number of equally unimportant and random details.

Lewis holds a far more realistic point of view, which is that life is desperately unpredictable despite our attempts to make it predictable.  None of our advances have changed this reality but, given a broader range of alleged understanding we pretend our information is somehow power.  And it isn’t that we don’t have some power.  Anti-biotics and better understandings of hygiene have greatly improved both quality and length of life, as have advances in dentistry, surgery, and a host of other -ies.  But it only takes another global conflict of the micro-biological (COVID-19) or macro-biological sort (warfare) to remind us how easily our routines and control is upended.

Another important thing to bear in mind when reading Lewis’ quote is that he is speaking to Christians.  His words make no sense (or have no basis for making sense) to a non-theist.  Only the Christian can truly live this life in confidence and hope and joy, knowing that death is an unpleasant passage to something much grander and larger and better.  The Christian should not despise this life, but they should hold it in the proper relationship to the scope of eternity – if that is possible.  So we exhort the living continually and mourn the dead in Christ for a time.  We acknowledge our mortality with an even eye and a steady hand, neither rushing towards it prematurely nor fleeing from it inordinately.

This allows the Christian to be brave and courageous, and to take risks for the sake of loving our neighbor that may be admirable to non-theists but must ultimately  be (in their eyes) the height of folly.  So it is that Christians have always laid their lives down in service to those in need when nobody else was willing to take the risk.  Christians have died with the victims of plague and casualties of war they tended to, just as their patients died.  Their courage and love has been often noted, and hopefully will be emulated today and for as long as we wait for our Lord’s return.

So don’t be too quick to co-opt Lewis’ words to either disparage precautions against contagion or to summon Christians to adherence to social distancing.  Rather, in Christ may his followers live this day in joy, loving God and neighbor as we are given opportunity to do so and without too much over-calculating of the possible costs.  All of the costs have ultimately already been paid for us by Christ.  Let us love our neighbors who insist on safe distances between us and them, but let us be the first to show love and care for those who do not have that luxury.  We are all of us in the Father’s hands.  What more could we ask for?

 

 

Strike 1

March 24, 2020

Although I’m not overly happy with the technical qualities of the first sermon I posted to the Internet, given the last minute rush to figure it out at all I don’t consider it a strike.  But I was very disappointed today.

I’m a Windows user, as far as computers go.  Though I dabble in Apple products (such as their early generation computers were the norm in high school and college labs, and I use an older model iPhone) my daily work for decades has been done on Windows-based PCs.  Although I enjoyed brief experiences with UNIX and Linux, I never considered them reasonable replacements for Windows.  And more and  move I’ve migrated from proprietary software options (such as Microsoft Office) to freeware solutions (such as OpenOffice).  That is also the case for the software I’ve used to generate audio files over the years – Audacity.

So I hooked up the mixing board and mics to a new computer I had installed Audacity on and put together my first Internet-destined audio file.  The only problem is that when I went to upload it to YouTube, it was rejected because it’s an audio file rather than a video file.  Now I have to figure out if there’s a way to fold the MP3 data into a video file that YouTube will recognize and accept.

Some might ask why I don’t just film me doing the Bible study and post said video.  It would be much simpler, ’tis true.  But I’m a rather cantankerous person at times.  I naturally resist the cultural obsession with visualization and our predilection to juding everything by looks rather than content.  As such, I take opportunities to kick against these goads , resulting in the predicted discomfort (such as losing a District election several years ago by one vote, in no small part because I refused to provide a photo to be used with my bio).

The current example is not wanting to film myself.  Go online and you’ll find scads of preacher videos.  What’s the first thing you notice before you hear a word out of their mouths?  What they look like.  Old or young?  Hip or outdated?  Liturgically vested or skinny jeans?  This is how we’re trained, but the Word of God encourages us to move past these surface level things to examine what’s underneath.  Oftentimes a nice exterior hides rottenness within.  Likewise, if we can ignore how someone looks, we might find they have something valuable to say.

My congregants already know what I look like (and I feel bad for them in that regard!), but those who don’t know me (and who aren’t compelled by a divine Call to listen to me on a regular basis!) should judge me not by what I look like or how I dress but rather by what I say and whether what I say is in line with what God says to us in his Word, the Bible.  If I’m going to reach a larger audience, I want to reach that audience not with me, but with Christ.  And while I’m sure there are plenty of preachers who can upload videos of themselves without a hint of pride, I’m not sure I’m as immune to the temptation to value what I’m doing  by the number of views or likes or whatever other means of cultural approbation we come up with.

So I kick, and it hurts.

I’m hopeful I’ll figure it out, but it’s a learning curve I’d much rather not have to be climbing at the moment!  I’ll keep you posted.

Holy Communion and COVID-19

March 21, 2020

As previously noted, our congregation is suspending corporate worship for the time being.  I make this decision only because I am specifically ordered to by the civil authority and because I do  not sense in this order any intention to suppress God’s people gathering together as God’s people, but only a desire to temporarily avoid gatherings that might spread infection.

This necessitates I as a pastor and my congregational leadership and members thinking about how we carry on as the body of Christ in this time.  I’ve intentionally refused to livestream or record worship services to  post  on Facebook or YouTube because  the sermon I deliver each Sunday is for my congregation.  People that by and large I know fairly well, and who know me.  When we speak to each other, we speak in the context of that relationship and trust, and the sermon is no different.  What I say to them and how I say it to them is in part conditioned by my relationship to them.

Therefore, for someone not part of our immediate community of faith to listen in could be problematic.  Without the relationship and trust, they don’t know how to hear properly what I’m saying.  This isn’t  their fault – at a very real level the words aren’t for them.  They’re for my people.  The Word of God is for everyone, to be sure. But a sermon as an explication and application of  the Word of God has to be crafted and fashioned with a hearer in mind.  Paul’s message to the Greeks on Mars Hill (Acts 17) would hardly have been appropriate to hearers in Jerusalem.

So I’ve maintained for a long time that if we’re going to post things online, they need to be designed for digestion online, by a community I cannot know, and that cannot know me.  The message has to be focused on the Word as it might apply to anyone, rather than the Word as it applies to my small flock of regular hearers.

Enter COVID-19.

Now we’re scrambling to find ways to allow our members to receive the Word of God in a sermon (as well as Bible studies and other things).  We’re going to experiment with livestreaming to our very small congregational group on Facebook tomorrow.  We’re also  arranging for  a phone-in, conference-call type solution for our many members without access to  either Facebook or the Internet.

But one question remains – what about Holy Communion?

Well, that’s going to have to wait.

While there have been efforts made over time to figure  out how to bring Communion to people  when they cannot gather for it together, those solutions are problematic to varying degrees.  Either they end up breaching the very reasons we aren’t gathering together in the first place (the possible spread  of infection) or they somehow alter what happens in Holy Communion.  Our denominational leadership prepared a brief statement indicating why some of these practices are problematic and to be avoided, while reminding us that for centuries, Holy Communion was an infrequently celebrated event.  We receive God’s grace and forgiveness daily, and while we should not willingly despise or avoid Holy Communion, when we must forego it for a period of time it does  not damage us spiritually, even though we might long to partake in it.

For now, patience.  And prayer that this outbreak will subside quickly and we can once again gather as the body of Christ to receive his good gifts to us in Word AND Sacrament.

 

SETI@Home Alone

March 5, 2020

1999.

The war in the Balkans is still raging.  The Euro is introduced to Europe.  Napster is released.

Clinton is acquitted of perjury charges in regards to his relationship with an intern.

Spongebob is released.

The Columbine High School massacre occurs.

Internet Explorer version 5 is the current one, and fears about Y2K are ramping up.

The Matrix and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace are both released.

And an experiment in massively distributed computing possibilities is launched.  SETI@home aims to utilize spare computing cycles on dormant, Internet-connected computers to analyze data in the search for intelligent life beyond Earth.  It isn’t the first experiment in massive distributed computing, but it’s perhaps the best known and longest running.  And as of March 31 it is being put on hiatus as researchers have so much backlogged data they need to analyze.

I never downloaded the software to participate.  Even then I was skeptical of other people using my computer in one way or another, a skepticism that has only grown and intensified as such intrusiveness becomes the norm rather than the well-intentioned exception.  But I remember thinking it seemed like a good use of all those PCs out there and our increasing bandwidth capabilities.

Did any of you participate in this?

 

Grateful

January 8, 2020

I’m often critical of the pervasiveness of technology in our culture today.  I’ll likely remain critical.  But I would be dishonest and remiss if I weren’t to also say that I’m grateful.

I’ve been tinkering with computers to one degree or another for close to 40  years now, and I can only say I’m so very, very, very,  very, very grateful for how easy it is to get a system setup and running these days compared to way back when.  I just set up a brand new PC in about 20 minutes.  That includes opening the box and unpacking it.  Granted, with this ease comes a lesser degree of control, but frankly, 99% of people using computers don’t need or even want the level of control we used to have to have in terms of installing drivers and this and that and the other.  In 20 minutes my system  is configured (mostly on its own) and connected to the Internet.  I’m already downloading and installing the additional freeware I want to use.

It’s amazing, and I’m grateful.

But still, get off your smartphones people!

 

Audiophora

January 6, 2020

What sort of new challenges for the new year?  That’s the question I try to ask myself.  What can I contribute to my own growth as well as reaching others with the Gospel in some respect?  For a long time I’ve resisted the trend of jumping online in terms of uploading worship services or sermons to YouTube or other social media.  I’ve long maintained that for an Internet audience, content needs to be created specifically for such an audience.  What I preach on Sunday morning is to my congregation.  It won’t necessarily translate universally (nor should it, I argue).

But it’s also obvious that online resources are a logical thing to do.  What I lack is both technical assistance towards this end or partners in any other sense of the word.  I’d like to do something with people, but that’s not necessarily something I can dictate.

So I’m putting together a light-weight recording studio upstairs at church, and will begin doing short audio recordings suitable for an online audience.  As I’ve considered this, I’ve come up with an idea to go along with it – audiophora.org.  I’ve registered the domain name but haven’t started setting up the site yet, so don’t bother trying to find it  :-)

The idea is that it would be an indexed collection of short (3-minutes or less is what I have in mind) audio files.  Some of it would be definitional in nature  – theological terms and concepts with concise definitions.  Each entry would in turn be cross-indexed with other terms, verses, etc. that come up as part of that definition.  So if I do an entry on salvation, say, then it would be cross referenced to other concepts brought up in the definition of salvation but not themselves defined there (like savior, sin, etc.).

All of this should be searchable as well as hyperlinked, so people can either find something precise or follow the rabbit-hole of hyperlinks as long as their heart desires.

Perhaps there will be full-scale studies here as well, but also broken down into bite size pieces.  Maybe one verse at a time, with a larger file entry for an entire chapter as well, or even an entire book.  I’m open to suggestions, and it would be fun to collaborate with other folks who would like to contribute, either in terms of words, concepts, etc. they would like defined, or who might even want to contribute their own audio  explanations of certain things.

Ah, but that name, tho – audiophora.com.

It’s a combination of audio and adiaphora.  Audio because, well, duh, they’re sound recordings.  Adiaphora is a philosophical and theological term which has come to mean something that isn’t either explictly commanded or forbidden.  So what color carpet should a church have?  That’s adiaphora – there’s wiggle room to make decisions.  It doesn’t mean there aren’t good things to consider, but it means the  answer isn’t a forgone conclusion via Scripture.

I’ll start setting things up in the next week or so and then do some trial recordings.  I’ll be eager for feedback and input if you’re so inclined.

Just Cute

December 5, 2019

It could easily be maintained that I have no heart, based on my typical posts that veer (successfully or unsuccessfully) more towards the cerebral than the emotional.

But just to prove I am somewhat human, here is an adorable example of how something can be done well without resorting to excessive expense, profanity, nudity, sexuality, or any of our  other popular marketing gimmicks.

Take a few seconds to watch this if you’re in the mood for something wholesome and sentimental.

Meme-able

November 8, 2019

Memes are arguably what runs  the Internet, or large portions of it.  A meme is something that spreads between people in a culture.  Internet memes are generally static images with text overlay, often humorous.  The picture reinforces or makes visual the text, or visa versa.  The word itself has anchors in Greek, where variations of it have to do with imitation, but the word as we know it was first coined by Richard Dawkins 40-some years ago in his seminal book, The Selfish Gene.

Memes are often human-based,  meaning the images used are of actual people.  Sometimes celebrities and other well-known figures.  But sometimes just photos from stock photo collections.  Models, in other words, from all walks of life.  But models are people, and people have stories aside from any one particular image of theirs.  So I found this brief essay by someone who has become a major Internet meme figure over the last decade to be fascinating.  A reminder that we are all more than just our image conveys, particularly a momentary image.