Archive for the ‘Vocation’ Category

My Technology Timeline

June 14, 2022

As someone who has been on the Internet for over 30 years (I was online before there was a World Wide Web and the graphical interface so ubiquitous to the online experience now), this is a really cool stroll down memory lane, as well as a fantastic visualization of the Big Dogs of Internet companies and how they have changed over time.

Which onramp did you use to get on the information highway and when? I had my first dial-up account in the early 90’s, and was checking e-mail through Unix-based systems like Pine and ELM. My route into IT was unexpected (and for some hilarious), but it was a part of roughly two decades of my professional life to some degree.

I remember the arrival of Yahoo! and providing internal training to staff at the corporate IT training company I joined in the mid-90’s, teaching them about the rapidly shifting Internet landscape as Yahoo! and other companies began to gain on American Online (AOL) in terms of providing portals or gateways to online web sites and destinations. Being able to see how companies arrived, jockeyed for position, enjoyed their moment in the sun, and then disappeared is fascinating. Good to find useful and fun things on the Internet instead of just fear-mongering and mis/dis-information!

Another Good Article

May 19, 2022

I think I’m going to continue to enjoy seeing posts from this blog site. The latest installment has to do with singing the psalms.

To be fair, I don’t think I ever sang the psalms congregationally for the first half or more of my life. Nor did a pastor or other person chant them in worship. They were often absent, or relegated to the printout of the readings on the back of the bulletin. I was vaguely aware that some congregations might actually incorporate them in some manner, but never thought much about it. That was ignorance on my part. That has to do I’m sure with number 2 on his list of why congregations don’t sing the psalms any more. We are culturally conditioned, and unfortunately our churches have allowed themselves to be culturally conditioned as well, so more ancient practices are less common or non-existent in many places. If the church doesn’t counter-condition members, then some beautiful things preserved for centuries get lost in a matter of a few months or years.

Nor do I think singing the psalms needs to be liturgically mandated. Again, I’m probably guilty of number 2. There are others who disagree with me strongly on this and I respect their position and think I understand why they hold it. While I’ve learned a lot about liturgical history I’m not positive we know exactly how Jesus sung them. What pointings? What tones? And Jesus as incarnate man was also culturally conditioned to a certain extent – a pious (to say the least!) Jew of the first century. We need to carefully think about whether his worship style and practice is descriptive or prescriptive.

But I do believe the psalms have an important and useful place in worship, and the more they are used – and used in their entirety – the better. I believe the appointed psalm for a Sunday should also be considered when preparing the sermon – just as I think all the assigned readings in a lectionary ought to be considered and not just the Gospel reading. A lectionary arranges these readings to complement one another to some degree (depending on the liturgical season), and to ignore this loses some of the depth possible in preaching.

When I was younger I didn’t like the psalms. Or more accurately, I didn’t think they offered much. I’ve changed my mind on that. Perhaps I’ll change my mind on the importance of chanting/singing them (and chanting/singing them a certain way). For now I’ll simply lend an amen to anything that provides the people of God with more regular and broad access to his Word and how it can be lived out in their public and private lives.

Why? Because it’s God’s Word, and this is supposed to make people uncomfortable and question their predispositions and assumptions about the world, their neighbors, and themselves. It should drive them to meditation and prayer and repentance regularly – ideally daily at least! And if Scripture is making us uncomfortable, it’s even more important to understand why that is.

Who Is Discriminating Against Whom?

May 18, 2022

Not a soccer fan, let alone follower. But I am an interested observer of the growing requirements on professionals in all fields who are required by their employers to actively support things that may conflict with their personal opinions, preferences, ideological, political or religious beliefs.

Case in point today, a soccer player who opted not to play a match. Salient initial facts:

  • The player requested not to play for personal reasons. No further reasons were offered or requested by the player’s club.
  • The player’s team still handily won the game.
  • The player has apparently not made any statements about his absence online or elsewhere (or I’m sure the article would have pointed those out.

You’d think this would be a non-story, right? Wrong. Of course it’s a story. But it may not be the story it ought to be.

Idrissa Gueye asked to be excused from play for a personal reason without making any public statements of any kind, but in doing so he missed a match where the team was required to wear rainbow themed shirts showing support for LGBTQ+ rights. This same player missed the same themed-match a year ago, which has led to the inquiries this year as to what personal reason he might have for not wanting to play.

The article makes it sound like the clubs have the option of participating in this activity. The player’s club apparently decides to participate. It sounds like the club at the very least is willing to not conduct interrogations of players who request not to play in a given match. Though of course at a salary of over $30million, such requests must understandably be few and far between. But because Gueye opted not to directly support LGBTQ+ by wearing a mandatory jersey, he’s under fire. He is not entitled to his opinion or ideas. Nobody is really. Not any more. Not in certain cultures and societies. Not in the realm of LGBTQ+ affirmations. And certainly not if you’re a highly visible athlete with millions of fans.

And to ensure this doesn’t keep happening (which would embarrass the insistence on a show of uniform support and encouragement), Gueye is being asked to explain his absence to an ethics board.

The hilarious irony is better illustrated in this short article, quoting how wonderfully supportive of diversity the LGBTQ+ movement is. If you accept their definition of diversity, which excludes anyone who disagrees with them, even someone who does so without making any more fuss out of it than absolutely needs to.

But the story this story doesn’t bother to tackle, doesn’t want to tackle, is the issue of personal religious beliefs and how they can or can’t be publicly shown or lived out. Gueye is apparently Muslim. Islam does not sanction homosexuality in any way. Gueye’s apparent attempt to live out the tenets of his faith are to be discarded under the insistance that he falsely show support for something expressly forbidden by his religion. But there’s no mention of this in the article. Only the implication that Gueye needs to be properly reprimanded soas not to dare remain faithful to his beliefs, and instead pledge his faith to whatever other banner his club or the French Football Federation or whomever might buy them out chooses to fly on any given day.

This is already a problem in American sports as well, where athletes are expected to wear whatever branding their team management deems necessary or appropriate. I doubt they are given an option about whether they agree with it or not. Which is why parents and grandparents need to be talking with their families about the future, about the increasing difficulty of living your life as a person of faith in a culture and society insisting on not simply tolerance, but affirmation of LGBTQ+ in general.

Masked under the inaccurate language of -phobia, as though people who disagree with LGBTQ+ are afflicted with some sort of irrational fear, employees today and increasingly in the future will not simply have to keep their beliefs private (which is problematic to begin with), but rather actively espouse beliefs contrary to their beliefs. People need to be helping young people both to recognize this and find ways of handling it, as it’s not going to change anytime soon, and is only going to increase in fierceness and frequency.

I disagree in general with the idea of being paid millions of dollars to play a game. Then again, I’m not very talented at any sports-like thing so maybe I’m just bitter. But what a shame for someone with the skills and the tenacity to excel in something being forced to become political instead of letting them do what you’re ostensibly paying them to do – play a game.

Unless of course you’re paying them to do something else – like influence millions of young fans no simply to take up a sport and refine their skills, but to take up ideologies that more and more are likely to contradict multiple tenets of people’s core beliefs.

Soft Peddling Drugs

May 17, 2022

I hate articles like this. I have no idea who this guy is and have never heard his music or witnessed his lifestyle. But he’s dead and probably didn’t need to die according to the tone of the article, citing past battles over the years with drugs and alcohol. But this is glossed over with the following statement he was clean and sober of late.

We’ve seen no shortage of luminous, talented celebrities dying before any of us were ready to handle their absence. And in no small measure, a stunning majority likely had their battles over the years with drugs and alcohol, even if they had eventually given up such habits or bowed to the necessities of age in growing more moderate. Without fail, the articles about their passing never condemn drug and alcohol abuse as true contributing factors in any substantive ways. Even if autopsy results credit drugs and alcohol, this is often chalked up to the celebrity lifestyle, as if talent is some sort of immunity against the very physical as well as mental and spiritual debilitations of substance abuse, prescribed or otherwise.

Until success is no longer viewed as justification for such abuse, deaths like this will continue to occur. None of us knows the number of our days, to be sure. But certainly certain practices up the odds that we will leave this earth sooner that we (or others) might prefer.

Granted, the Rolling Stones are a singular exception to this, but exceptions by no means invalidate well-defined rules and expectations!

So it’s too bad this guy died. Too bad he might have come to his senses too late, after apparently considerable damage had already been done, and I pray his hope and faith was ultimately not in his dealer but in his Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. I pray other rising stars take seriously these examples, and I pray the media-subset that thrives on celebrity lives and lifestyles would quit condoning and approving of such indulgences with a wink-wink-nod-nod sort of reporting style.

Abandoning the Field, and the Need to Redefine the Field

May 14, 2022

The last of my long-neglected articles is this essay by professor (former, now) speaker, thinker and writer Jordan Peterson.

This is a fantastic, no-punches-pulled essay. I believe Peterson has rightly diagnosed an extremely dangerous shift in our culture, one that I’ve been warning about for over a decade. It is not something that is going to go away any time soon. But there are hopeful signs that some leaders are fed up with it and willing to take a stand against it. The best example of this is Netflix, who seemed to be on the ropes last year with employees trying to hold the company hostage in order to force programming and production changes along the lines of what Peterson talks about. But rather than cave (and there was definitely wobbling last year), Netflix has decided that the honesty of artistic expression (and hopefully corresponding capital rewards) outweigh cancel culture. In a memo last week Netflix suggested employees who can’t handle any of the content Netflix produces or sells should consider working elsewhere rather than attempting hostage-techniques to wrest control of the company.

Not surprisingly, media coverage of this memo has been decidedly muted in comparison to the non-stop coverage of a handful of irate employees demanding sweeping changes and control of Netflix content last year. We can only hope more CEOs will follow suit.

It’s tempting to blame Peterson for abandoning the field. After all, if there aren’t holdouts against the rising order, can we ever hope for change? And wasn’t it exactly that tactic of gradual infiltration that ultimately turned American universities into bastions of radical liberal ideology? But I have to admit Peterson makes some good points. The very folks inclined to seek out his mentorship will be rewarded, no doubt, with bright scarlet letters atop their curriculum vitae in any academic HR department or before any hiring committee. He makes a good case that he’s actually doing limited good and by redirecting his efforts he might have a broader impact. Perhaps, within the echo-chamber of existing like-minded people.

But it seems Peterson should do more than lambast his peers who hide and curry favor in order to keep their jobs. Something different is called for, I’d suggest. A turning away from the increasing cycle of more and more years of public education and corresponding radical ideology. What is required is a re-thinking of whether universal university education is an expectation that provides any real degree of value. There will always be a need and place for people who do require advanced or specialized types of training, though I’d argue alternatives could and should be developed still to mandatory undergraduate and graduate degrees for doctors and other professionals. Peterson seems to accept the mandate that has grown unceasingly over the last 40 years – universal university education is a good goal and a benefit to both the individual and society.

But as pressure mounts to eliminate some or all student loan debt, this clearly is a flawed premise. Even when I was in high school in the early 80’s there was already a stigma against vocational education. Maybe more effort should be directed at countering this stigma and providing recognition of honorable work that doesn’t require a degree. While I’m not familiar with and therefore not endorsing everything Mike Rowe might be saying, I do respect his critique of the denigration in American society of vocational training and jobs as somehow menial and non-respectable.

Hopefully Peterson will find that broader platform he hints at. His voice is much needed. But one voice isn’t nearly enough.

Church Authority

May 10, 2022

An interesting – if too vague – article on the necessity of Church authority. By this, the author basically means every professing Christian ought to submit themselves to the authority of a church body – a local Christian congregation. Church membership as a whole continues to decline in the Western world, even as reported rates of theism in America remain very strong. Clearly there seems to be a trend where people believe they can believe in Jesus without being part of a Church. This article – rightly – questions this assertion and boldly questions such rationale.

I like his terminology – theological anarchist – for those who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ but refuse to submit to the authority of the Church. The typical rationale – the risk of abuse of power within the Church – is not a valid rationale as the author rightly points out. Jesus established the Church not to be perfect but to be the place in this world where the faithful can be fed and nourished (albeit imperfectly) towards their eternal place in the perfect creation that is already inbreaking. Sometimes it is not possible to be connected to a community of believers because of intense risk and danger. However it’s interesting that it is in exactly such conditions the Church seems most resolute and permanent. Not as an institution but as the reality of Christians gathering together to sustain their souls by the promises of God conveyed in the reality of brothers and sisters willing to risk this short, frail, mortal coil to affirm the equal reality of what all believers are supposed to be anticipating. Japanese Christians had to hide for a time but did continue to meet. The same happened in China and the USSR and other places where Christianity and the Church were suppressed or outlawed.

What remains as a rationale for avoiding submission to Church authority is something else, something far more personal. The author’s language is very strong here, offensive even. But isn’t the refusal to submit to Church authority equally offensive? Isn’t the assertion that no congregation is good enough for me offensive, even if the person hasn’t thought about it like that before?

I think the article can be a bit misleading in the title. It led me to expect a discussion about the exercising of church discipline and authority over members as opposed to the need and mandate for submission to Church authority vis a vis membership or attendance or however you want to name serious commitment. Committing to a community of faith is often, tragically, only a commitment of convenience, lasting only as long as the individual happens to agree with what is said and done and asked of them, and terminated when it suits their personal preferences as opposed to for reasons of heresy or theological error.

Of course this is a dominant problem in America and the West where individualism is reaching absurdist heights, and the Church is not exempt from these problems. Good but competing models such as democracy are often absorbed into congregational polity. Sometimes they can be good. Sometimes they can be harmful. But most dangerous is when they are confused with the Church, with the Gospel, with God’s will and work in our lives and world which is only and ever in Christ and not in the well-intentioned creations of any other person or group.

The Church is not -as some insist – part of such a subset of human-created ideas and institutions. The Church is Christ’s command and creation (Matthew 16:18). It is not perfect, but it will be, just as every individual who is part of it is not perfect but by the grace of God in Jesus Christ one day will be. As surely as I am not perfect, no congregation is perfect. That does not excuse me from the necessity of being part of one. To profess an invisible Lord while refusing to submit to that Lord’s visible, though imperfect Church is problematic in the extreme.

As a note, the questions and answers with Biblical citations at the end are from the Westminster Larger Catechism, crafted for use by the Church of Scotland in 1647 and followed by many Presbyterian church bodies. I don’t agree with all of the statements printed at the end of this article (I’m not Presbyterian!), but the author feels they help support some of his assertions.

Hospitality, Meals & Scripture

May 9, 2022

I’ve had a long interest in the intersection of hospitality, meals and Scripture. The Bible frequently uses the language of food and feeding to teach spiritual truths, and hospitality is not only repeatedly described throughout the Bible (Genesis 18, as just a single example), it is also prescribed (Hebrews 13:2 as just a single example and related most likely to Genesis 18).

I finally verified something I suspected for years – I have access to a theological database called Atla (originally short for American Theological Libraray Association). So now I can start to research what others have said on this topic as I continue to draw my own conclusions from the Word.

The first article I read can’t be accessed without paying for it (unless you also have access to Atla). It’s by a Presbyterian pastor in North Carolina by the name of David W. Priddy. The essay is entitled Eating with penitence: An essay on the local church eating responsibly (sic) and it was published in the Review & Expositor, a quarterly Baptist theological journal.

Priddy’s thesis deals with what the local church can do towards food reform and agricultural renewal. He posits three key issues. Firstly, a high regard for Word and Sacrament; secondly, examining the role of meals in Scripture (particularly the New Testament) and specifically in association with themes of judgement and a call to humility; and thirdly, the importance of continued remorse over sin (penitence).

Although at times abstruse, Priddy does a good job outlining these key issues, and I concur with most of the ideas he presents. Although we come from different denominational backgrounds I suspect we’d have a lot in common theologically, at least on this particular topic.

The only difficulty I had with the essay was his disdain for the history of some property owned by his congregation. His difficulty reflects modern notions of contemporary remorse (penitence) as well as potentially the appropriateness of some sort of compensation for past injustices (penance) although he stops short of such an assertion here. He relates how a 200-acre plot of land and large home was donated to his congregation well over 100 years ago (perhaps as long as 170 years ago). The problem isn’t the property per se, though Priddy has ideas about how it could be better put to use in food reform and agricultural renewal. The problem is the man who donated it to the church owned at least ten slaves and apparently sired children through at least one of them (and it’s implied that it was far more). The congregation’s fellowship hall is named after this man, something Priddy clearly finds offensive and problematic.

However in the little he says in the essay, it’s hard to know whether Priddy has investigated the donor’s penitence. The life of faith is indeed a constant one of confession and absolution, of contrition as well as accepting the gracious forgiveness of God, something Priddy highlights admirably in his brief discussion of historic liturgical formulations. Yet the presumed damning evidence of the congregation’s benefactor all those years ago leaves little room in Priddy’s words or spirit for the idea of forgiveness either sought or granted, the idea that the offending donor might have in fact been penitent, which may have spurred his donation of land to the church as an act of penance.

Priddy speaks a lot about penitence but very little about absolution and this is most clear in this real-world application. The Church must speak this loudly in the face of rising intolerance in cancel-culture. The irony is that culture has discarded Church, the Bible and God, and with it the only worldly assurance – and demand – for forgiveness and absolution. In lieu of this we are now daily on trial by a culture that rapidly evolves in it’s ideas about what is right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, and that views any past sins of either omission or commission as equally damnable and irredeemable. The psalmist might these days say If you, O Culture, should mark iniquities, O Culture, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3, modified). The answer is no one, and unfortunately Priddy conveys a similar unwillingness to accept the possibility of penitence or penance if the sin is great enough, and therefore denies effectively the possibility of forgiveness and grace – certainly in this world and if so, then perhaps in the creation to come.

Pastors and congregations do have an opportunity to encourage members to reflect more on the choices they make as consumers (in this case, specifically as consumers of food products). While I don’t have the basis Priddy apparently does to label the entire food industry as essentially evil, I recognize wholeheartedly there are some major problems that affect land and health. Congregations have the opportunity to read Scripture with an ear towards how these topics are discussed, avoiding the temptation to simply apply Biblically-specific verses and situations to modern-day issues, yet recognizing the Church is continually called to contrition and penitence as well as to joyfully proclaiming the forgiveness won for us in Christ. Failure to do either inevitably leads to darkness.

I’m excited by the prospect of continued research and academic engagement, and grateful my seminary provides this benefit to alum, particularly now that my work has taken me to places where obtaining physical books (including my own professional library in boxes in storage) is either impossible or unreasonably expensive!

Japan’s Hidden Christians

May 4, 2022

Offered here without commentary, but as an invitation for you to contemplate for yourself. How does this align with traditional, historical Christianity? Does it now? Is it necessary today simply because it was once necessary? Not nearly enough information here to draw strong conclusions on, but enough food for thought to stimulate personal reflection, hopefully.

The brief highlighting of this aspect of Christian history a few years ago was fanned into flame by both the book, Silence, and the movie. I’ve yet to see the movie, and I suspect it wouldn’t add much to the sparseness of the book. A reminder of the costs faith sometimes incurs, and the ways people attempt to deal with those costs.

As a further aside, this looks like a fascinating site for short videos on a variety of intriguing subjects!

Well You Can Just Rock Me to Sleep Tonight

March 4, 2022

And in case you’d like to stay awake a little longer tonight silently contemplating things you never thought about before as well, here’s this little article on whether or not Superman – were he real – should be baptized.

As the article indicates, the main factors the author uses to consider this are based in the theology of Thomas Aquinas, some 900 years later arguably still the Roman Catholic Church’s greatest theologian. I appreciate the attempt to provide a consistent, coherent answer to the question while addressing some very legitimate questions. The author isn’t the first to ponder this possibility, as I’ve noted before. I’d prefer to lose sleep if/when we actually discover alien life to which we might apply such questions as this (as opposed to microbes or other forms of life we deem baptism inappropriate for). But it’s nice to be reminded others are being more proactive in their theology.

What’s the Moral?

January 22, 2022

I read this short book summary and can’t stop thinking about it.

I’m not so interested in the anecdotal story but the conclusion drawn from it at the end – in general, that people should choose ethical behavior in case there is a possible, undetermined and unknowable material benefit to them. In other words, rather than responding to a given situation based on an internalized ethos, people must be encouraged to rationally process all of their options and then select one based upon possible personal benefit.

It sounds reasonable enough. But it’s troubling and I assume indicative of larger ethical and moral issues challenging our culture right now. More and more, people do not have an underlying moral and ethical framework which dictates to them the appropriate course of action in any number of possible situations. As such, morality and ethics often gets boiled down to a matter of personal benefit. Actions we once considered moral and ethical in and of themselves (not stealing, returning lost items when possible, etc.) now are only opted for when a maximum personal benefit is evaluated.

Years ago when I was teaching ethics in technology at university I discovered this troubling reality. Students were quick to affirm that shoplifting a sweater was wrong, but they saw no such problem with illegally downloading software or movies and video games. Their explanation was that they felt they were far more likely to get caught physically shoplifting an item, whereas the odds of them being caught and then prosecuted for digital theft were slim to none. Their definition of the right thing to do was determined solely by personal benefit. They rationalized digital theft as really of no difference to the producers of the content (who were already rich) and justified by their own current impoverished circumstances as students.

I was raised however with a different set of criteria, a criteria that still guides my actions and decisions often at a subconscious level. This criteria is a codified and unified system identifying some actions as right and others as wrong. My personal benefit in any given situation is rarely a factor. There is simply a right course to be followed. While I could follow the wrong course – and at times have – I would do so knowing what I was doing was wrong. I might try to justify it on any number of subjective grounds but I would still know such attempts were ultimately inadequate and the reality remained that I was doing something I should not do, whether I personally benefited from the decision or not.

This system of criteria was embedded in me through my religious upbringing as a Christian. It wasn’t a matter of economics. Certainly finding a wallet with money in it might have been very advantageous to me as a young person, but I understood clearly that this was not the primary consideration. The primary consideration was whether or not I could return the wallet and everything in it to the rightful owner. Certainly there might be a temptation to keep the money, justifying it as a small loss to the owner but not nearly as severe as someone more dishonest who might attempt to steal more by utilizing whatever debit or credit cards were inside. But that temptation – whether heeded or not – was recognized and categorized as exactly that. The right course of action was clear and not dependent on whether someone might be watching me or not, or whether I would benefit more or less.

A morality or ethics based purely on economic considerations can hardly be called that. Economics can justify certain courses of action based on personal benefit, but cannot ensure that such personal benefit is uniformly present in any given situation. What results is a very situational and subjective approach to morality and ethics. If I’m as positive as possible there won’t be any negative consequences to my actions, my actions become permissible and even defensible. This excessively complicates our actions and makes them externally unpredictable.

Economics is a poor substitute for Truth, even when economics might approve of a course of action I would personally prefer, but which Truth dictates is not permissible. Yes, there are times when doing the right thing might result in further benefit than peace of mind. This is because the wisdom of God the Creator is woven into creation and cannot be completely eradicated or eliminated by our sinfulness. The truth that honesty is the right choice sometimes plays itself out in unforeseen benefits, like being approved for a loan. But even if it doesn’t, I benefit from a clear conscience and the joy of knowing my choice to deprive myself whatever benefit my wrongdoing might have brought makes the other person’s life better and easier.

However my choice is not justified by this emotional or spiritual reward. This is not a form of spiritual economics. It is not karma from Eastern religions nor is it an attempt to earn a less tangible reward as Islam would suggest, stacking up enough good deeds to outweigh my bad deeds. Rather, it is an understanding that this is who I have been made to be – someone who is able and willing, albeit imperfectly – to recognize and live the way I and all of creation was intended to live. My opting to do the right thing without regard to my personal benefit is in gratitude for the reality that my sinful (selfish) and broken self has in fact been redeemed not by my good efforts but rather by the incalculable sacrifice of the Son of God, Jesus, for me. I am now free to respond not in fear but gratitude. Not in a calculated self-seeking but in love for the God who saved me as well as those around me who I hope are also brothers and sisters in Christ.

This is not an alternate set of evaluations and computations in any given situation, but rather my condition. The air I breathe, so to speak. And I’m also still free and prone to rejecting this beautifully clean air for contaminated and unhealthy air, so to speak. I’m free to act against what I have been shown is right. But I do so at risk to myself and others, rather than benefit.

There’s an economic reversal only God is capable of!