Monthly Archives: June 2011

The “meh” experience of sermon-writing on my iPad

Today I took the plunge and wrote my sermon on my iPad. It’s a “doable” experience, but not one I’d want to repeat over and over again just yet. Let me share my two biggest reasons why I don’t think it’s quite “there” yet.

  • There aren’t any windows. I know, on the iPad that’s a feature rather than a bug – but the nice thing about windows is the ability to look at information, and enter in data in another window without have to completely switch screens (or do so seamlessly). Also, I keep IM open while I’m working and I miss seeing my IM client there while I’m typing away. Most of my problems will be handled in iOS 5 this fall, switching apps seamlessly will be a simple swipe-gesture, and the new alerts set-up for iOS 5 will solve my IM dilemma. Right now, however, working collaboratively between processes is rather disruptive.
  • The writing apps aren’t quite up to snuff. I use Documents to Go as my word processor. It’s not awesome, but it does outlines, is synced to my Google Docs account (though it really should sync the doc automatically when it’s saved, rather than syncing only after the document is closed), and has a good set of features. It’s not as stunning to look at as Pages, but it actually has the features I need. The problem is, the keyboard support is pretty awful – the typical formatting shortcuts don’t work, and neither does the “save” command (which is needed, I lost whole paragraphs because the app didn’t suspend properly when I went to go search something in my Bible app). Also, would it kill Documents to Go to have a setting to enable typographic quotes? It just looks nicer. This writing experience needs to improve significantly before I move over to writing sermons on my iPad full-time.

So, that’s where I am. I could keep my MacBook shut down all week and just write on my iPad – but the disruptive way of collaboratively working between processes, coupled with weak apps for document generation, make it an undesirable option. I actually had considered using Google Docs directly on my iPad, but the desktop version is suddenly not working properly on my iPad anymore! I’ll keep looking for tools that make sermon-writing on my iPad a more enjoyable experience, and will revisit the process when iOS 5 comes out in the fall.

Leaving the MacBook at home for fun and prophet

We drove out to pick up our daughter from my wife’s folks after worship on Sunday. As my day off is Monday we stayed over-night and hit HersheyPark on Monday. This isn’t unusual, it’s a ritual we do year after year. What was unusual, however, is that this time I left my MacBook at home. This isn’t to say that I was sans computer, I had both my iPhone and iPad with me. I didn’t miss lugging my laptop bag with me. In fact, my MacBook remained in my bag until Tuesday morning, when I carried it downstairs for my weekly ritual of translating Scripture. Then, after lugging it downstairs this morning I thought, “What would happen if just left it at home today? Can I do my work without it?”

So I left my MacBook powered completely down, in my laptop bag, at home. Honestly, there were very few moments that I missed having it. My biggest problem came, actually, with the Bible apps that I use on iOS: Olive Tree Reader and Accordance.

Now, let me be clear. I adore both these apps. Olive Tree has been making wonderful Bible software for the mobile realm for years, and Accordance on the Mac is an absolute joy to use (though their iOS version is less mature than Olive Tree’s for obvious reasons). I know people from both companies, and even hosted an Accordance training seminar this past spring. I also have significant money invested in each platform, though I did beta test for Olive Tree for a while and got access to some modules for free (full disclosure there). My problem is, for the most part, neither app works the way I tend to think.

One of Accordance’s great strengths is the ability to arrange the interface into a work-flow which is suited for the individual user. As such, I’ve got my MacOS Accordance install set up for me, myself, and I. The windows are all set up in the places where I expect them to be, and life is good. On iOS, however, every app is full-screen. Accordance for iOS has a rather slick split-screen function built-into it, but when I try to interact with the text (say, to add a user note) the interface gets completely in the way. For example, when adding a user note, the editor over-lays the text you’re commenting on! That doesn’t make any sense to me. A similar limitation for Accordance iOS is the lack of user tool support (though these should be arriving soon), so I can’t do my weekly (badly done) translation ritual in the app. Finally, Accordance iOS only syncs between a Mac and the iOS device. This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s rapidly becoming a deal-breaker for me. Why should I have to manually sync my notes files between locations in the world of dropbox? If I write a note on one device, it should be automatically pushed to my other devices. At least, that’s what I’m looking for now.

Olive Tree Reader, on the other hand, has excellent cloud support (both through evernote and their own cloud-sync service), allows you to edit a note in split-screen view, and doesn’t limit your notes to to verse commentary (as you can see in the screen shot). This means I can (poorly) translate the text while continuing to interact with the text. In a rather weird oversight, however, Olive Tree Reader allows you to edit notes which are attached to a verse in split-screen view, but if you write a new note in split-screen there is no way to assign it to a verse! So, as with Accordance for iOS, I’m stuck editing verse notes in an pop-up overlay. I work around this by adding a blank note for the verses I’m working on and then edit them. While it’s nice to have the flexibility to enter my notes this way, however, it would be nice to not have to do it at all.

When it comes to displaying notes, though, I much prefer the way Accordance iOS handles things. In Olive Tree Reader each note is an independent entry – each of which has to be opened on it’s own. I get the concept, as they wanted the notes to be able to be easily accessed in full-screen view. This set-up, however, makes it difficult to have a sense of an on-going interaction with the text – each note is it’s own entity, and doesn’t need to be associated with the notes which surround it. Accordance iOS, taking a cue from it’s MacOS roots, displays my notes in split-screen mode only, with the notes window automatically scrolling with the text. This scrolling behavior helps to create the sense of an ongoing interaction with the text as a whole, rather than each verse as in individual entity – it is truly a thing of beauty, as you can see in the screen shot. I like it so much that I’ve actually been writing my notes in Olive Tree Reader, and copying them into my Accordance notes (which I then sync back to my MacOS install). It’s not ideal, but then I’m able to function the best way for me.

Do I “need” my MacBook to do my sermon work anymore? No, I don’t – but I can’t deny that the over-all experience is still more flexible and ideal for my work-flow than the iPad (and if I didn’t have a keyboard it wouldn’t even be a question, the on-screen keyboard takes up way too much screen real-estate). If I could marry Olive Tree and Accordance’s different strengths into one app, however, it would be killer app if there ever was one!

To my friends and acquaintances at both these companies I offer my sincere thanks for all you do. I hope you feel my critiques are fair, my compliments genuine, and my thoughts helpful as you keep moving forward on your prospective projects.

Spirituality 101

The most memorable spiritual lesson I learned in college was actually taught to me by my astronomy professor, Dr. Bradstreet. For years the astronomy students at Eastern practiced the art of lugging telescopes into place, manually calibrating them, and learning how to keep a stellar object in the field of view so it could be traced. The year after I graduated, however, that was all going to change. Dr. Bradstreet was ready to break ground on an extremely ambitious undertaking, the construction of a two dome observatory in place of the outdoor observation deck we suffered on throughout our college careers. Gone would be the February evenings out in the wind and cold. Gone would be the hours spent developing black and white film for our observation notebooks. Gone would be the endless lugging of huge Dobsonian Reflector telescope out of the elevator penthouse, and the often tedious manual calibration of both that and the smaller Schmidt-Cassegrain reflectors (which we carried up the steps out into the cold). The students who came after us would sit in a warm-room, drinking hot chocolate and combining multiple digital photographs for shots we could only dream of taking with our manual camera.

As Dr. Bradstreet remarked on the luxury the next students would be able to enjoy, however, he said something rather provocative, “Of course, upcoming students are going to have to put way more into their notebooks then you guys did.” When my class heard that, there was a collective shudder. The astronomy notebook was the collective nightmare of a majority of Eastern’s first year students. it took careful planning (scheduling observation nights, and planning for the inevitable cloudy sky), technically difficult (we developed our own images), and time consuming (collecting the various data into a visually compelling medium). The astronomy notebook stretched incoming students to the limits of their academic skills. Finishing the notebook was such a glorious feeling for me that I still have mine on my book shelf, and one of my moon-shots hangs in my office. Being so all-consuming, however, made my class wonder how on earth people could expect to put even more it!

Dr. Bradstreet had the answer, “Gang, you have to understand, there is no such thing as a labor-saving device. Every time we create something to save time, it just gives us more time to fill with work. If I gave the students coming after you the same assignment you had, they’d all get it done in a couple days.” His response stuck with me, and has colored my pursuit of ministry ever since. Dr. Bradstreet absolutely had to increase the level of work for the notebook assignment because the strain of putting it together was as much of the lesson as the astronomical facts we learned. If he didn’t stretch his students, he wouldn’t be doing right by them.

As a theological student, however, I learned a lesson about the negative aspects of efficiency that day – one which perhaps pastors all need to learn. The technology we have at our disposal means that we can be frightfully efficient – accomplishing tasks in hours which took our predecessors days to complete. Yet, that efficiency often threatens to swallow us with the overwhelming desire to be ever more productive. If we don’t have a full block of meetings, multiple visitations, and various pastoral functions filling our calendars we tend to feel we’re not doing it “right.” In that way, our labor saving devices tend to make us slaves. In the midst of our efficient pursuit of productivity, we too often forget the tasks which have no immediate return on our investment of time – study, reflection, and prayer (just to name a few). When we forget these things, we reveal that we’ve actually accepted our “labor-saving” devices without counting the cost of using them.

It is because of that lesson that Dr. Bradstreet taught me back in 1996 that I came to the conclusion that if my labor-saving devices have made me so efficient that I’m constantly “busy” I’m probably doing it wrong. Oh, there are seasons of time where busyness is unavoidable and can even be embraced as a chance to grow (ABCNJ’s annual session serves this function for me), but these must be seasons rather than a way of life. If we are to learn from being stretched we need to have seasons of reflection, days where the schedule is empty, and moments where we’re free to simply sit before our Creator and be.

Thanks Dr. B – your impact goes further than you realize!

A funny thing happened on the way to the offering

I love technology, and implementing technology wisely in worship. That being said, one of the points I always raise with pastors and lay-people who are interested in integrating technology into worship (usually through digital projection) is that it will fail – and they needed to be prepared for the contingency. Well, this past Sunday we had our projector fail during worship, and I was so impressed with how people dealt with it that I though I could share a few points with you, my wonderful readers (all 15 of you).

  1. Don’t panic! If people see you panicking, they’ll get antsy – and antsy people are easily annoyed.
  2. If possible, have a spare. Our congregation has an older projector that we pulled out and hooked up in just a couple of minutes. A few years ago this would have been impossible to contemplate, but with projector costs coming down so rapidly it’s now more likely that even a smaller congregation could have a spare projector.
  3. Remember to go with the flow (see point one). When I waved to a fellow geek to go get the spare he took off to grab it, then I thought, “He doesn’t have a key for that closet.” I was standing up front waiting for the offering plates to come forward so I could pray the prayer of thanksgiving, thus making it impossible for me to go after him. He arrived back in the sanctuary just as “Give Thanks” was ending and mouthed, “It’s locked.” So after the song was finished I handed the plates to the usher and said, “Here, pray – I need to go do something.” His look was priceless, the congregation (which had deduced the problem) laughed, and the usher gave thanks to God for all his blessings. We had the spare in place in time for the next song – which was, appropriately, “I Saw the Light.”
  4. Laugh! It’s no use agonizing over things that are going wrong. Just chuckle a bit, let the congregation in on the joke, and move on.

So there you have my “projector failure” learning-points/funny story. I wish I would have thought to take a picture of the usher’s face when I took off to get the keys. I don’t think he believed I was coming back!

Living Forward

This morning I lead chapel at Riverview Estates. It’s a (mostly) Baptist retirement facility down by the Delaware River. There is a special connection between Riverview and Central Baptist, many of our members have lived, worked, or volunteered down there over the years (some have even done all three) so we feel that Riverview really is part of our fellowship. It’s been hard this year because we’ve had some wonderful people at Riverview take the journey home and we all sorely miss them.

This morning, however, I almost called in sick. I’m recovering from a nasty Summer cold and can’t project my voice to speak, much less sing – I also worry about infecting people who’s immune systems are already weak. Despite my misgivings, I went down anyway, and i’m glad I did. There was a lot of encouragement to be had.

First, the woman who plays piano when I’m down brightened up when I came in and said, “Oh, I want to show you something!” She then took out a Book of Common Prayer and said, “Are you familiar with this?” When I nodded she smiled and said, the refrain you use during prayer time is there, do you know that? (After joys or concerns at Central the person leading prayer says, “Lord in your mercy” and the congregation responds, “Hear our prayer”).” When I said, “Yes” again she smiled and said, “Our new rector wanted to use different version of ‘Prayers of the People’ this week and when I saw the refrain I suddenly got it – it really meant something to me.” That really meant something to me.

Second, a nice older woman was wheeled in he her chair, looked at the accompanist and I, and said, “I love you guys.” That’s always a treat.

Third, I announced that I wouldn’t be able to sing this morning due to my cold and folks were kinda bummed. One lovely woman took up the slack and tried to make sure that everyone was singing along – which is not hard to do when half the people are nodding off!

Fourth, during prayer time a retired pastor asked for prayer that he’d continue to be formed by Jesus (I can’t remember his exact words, but that’s the gist of it). I thought that was pretty wonderful – here was a retired pastor, who took some joy knowing that he still had growing to do.

Fifth, we sang happy birthday to a 92 year old woman who may just be one of the most talented and brilliant people I’ve ever met (she taught herself to paint just a few years ago because she wanted to try something new). She’s also a retired pastor and a person I love to see.

Sixth, during my short meditation a woman (who is about as sweet as can be) kept saying things like “amen” and “hallelujah.” Now, when I often hear such call-outs during worship there’s often an undertone of, “are YOU listening?” that floats into it. This woman, however, was expressing herself out of a sense of joy and longing. It touched me deeply in worship – not that she was saying “amen” to me, but that she actually was saying it to Jesus.

Seventh, on the way out they gave me a fresh-baked cinnamon scone. How awesome is that?

If you ever get a chance to visit, work, or volunteer down at Riverview Estates – I highly recommend it. The residents are wonderful, the staff is caring, and there’s a lot of joy found there.

An Unexpected use for user notes

I don’t like printing things. To me, printing out materials for something that is going to be used one time and then tossed away is a waste of both paper and ink – materials I don’t feel like spending a lot of money on. For all my antagonism towards printing, however, even I have to admit that there are times where a printed sheet often managed to get out of the way better than having a few gizmos with me.

Funerals have been a particular conundrum for me. As far as I’m concerned, my job at a funeral is to offer a small glimmer of hope of Gospel and then get out of the way to help people express their grief. It’s a formula which works for me. For several years I was fine printing out my short order of worship for a funeral, using my iPaq/Palm/iPod Touch/iPad to read the Scripture passages. This worked ok, even though I felt like I was juggling too much. The arrival of the iPad on the scene, however, led me to cease the printing portion of the movement. Instead, I’d put the order on my iPhone (in Airplane mode) and read the Scripture from the iPad. I hated it. If I felt like I was juggling too much with a piece of paper – using two electronic devices felt like I was doing an acrobatic routine.

My biggest problem sprang from the reality that devices which were so good at getting out of the way were suddenly in the way. I’d have to wake one device, and then another, and suffer the odd looks that people would give when i unloaded multiple computers on to the podium. It wasn’t good.

My recent embrace of user notes, however, has now afforded me a solution. Olive Tree’s reader allows me to create a user note without linking it to a verse reference (which, ironically, is something I want to be able to add manually so I can edit user notes in two pane mode). This allows me to put the order of worship in a second pane, and access the Scripture readings in the first. I tried this at a funeral last week and finally found myself free of any sense of juggling. If you have an iPad, and you’ve been leery of using it in a pastoral context such as a funeral or wedding, you might want to give this a try.