Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dear Donald

I don’t typically write “open letters” to other Christians, but your recent blog post made me want to reach out to you. Your follow up post offers a lot of clarity to your first thoughts. I especially love your thoughts on the “not about you” section. This quote was amazing,

But this is a much larger issue. The subtext of these comments seemed to insinuate that God wants us to suffer for Him. But not suffer by reaching the poor or by being outcast, suffer, literally, by standing in a church service singing songs you don’t find catchy. Really?

Thanks for pointing that out. You have no idea how often I’ve had the same thought.

Your first post resonated with me, largely because the reasons why you don’t often attend a “traditional” church service are the same reasons why I don’t often attend conferences. I find sitting in large rooms for hours on end, while an endless litany of people tell me how excited they are, to be emotionally traumatic. The fact that conferences typically break up the endless litany of speakers by putting on faux rock concerts doesn’t do anything to make them more palatable. Like you, I’m an introvert. Noise followed by louder noise does produce fond feelings in me. One of my most common thoughts during a conference is, “Make the bad man stop.”

Unlike you singing does produce an emotional connection with me, but in a much different setting. Also unlike you, I enjoy a good lecture – provide I both know beforehand I’m attending a lecture and I know there is a clear ending time to the lecture1. We have different tastes. I’m pretty much ok with that and I’m sure you are as well.

Other than to tell you how much I resonate with your thinking I wanted to reach out for some other reasons.

First, as a pastor, I wanted to apologize for all the righteous bloggers who read2 your blog and attacked. When people who depend on a particular institution see the institution questioned, the questioning voice needs to be silenced or discredited. I wish it were otherwise, but it is what it is. I’ve experience similar attacks in my lifetime. They are rarely direct, and hurt deeply. For the wounds inflicted by fellow Christians, I apologize.

Second, I wanted to encourage you. Run away from “traditional” Evangelical worship as fast as you can. If it just leaves you exhausted, numb, or even hostile – it doesn’t matter what the production value is, the spiritual damage it can do is just not worth it. “Traditional” Evangelical worship has turned worshippers into audience members. They are there to give emotional energy to the band, sit quietly when appropriate, and provide the audience track for the sermon. In fact, a lot of the same people who reminded you that worship is “not about you” need to be reminded of the same thing3.

You wrote this in your first piece,

I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow.

That is simply amazing, and it explains why the “traditional” Evangelical worship-service leaves you feeling blah. The audience model of worship turns you into a combination recipient/emotional-prop. You want to work, which is exactly what worship is supposed to be – service to God. The “weekly fill-up” mentality of Evangelical Christianity has got it backward, worship isn’t a service station for congregants and leaders. It’s a temple through which we render service to our Savior4.

I do hope you find, however, a community which deliberately and regularly gathers to serve Jesus. Filled with people who have the same conviction to serve, but who experience God in a way which is different from you. These folks help us see our own blind-spots, help protect our weaknesses, and give us space for our strengths to bless them as well. Being regular isn’t only good for the physical realm5.

Third, I wanted to invite you to come and worship with the little church I pastor if you happen to find yourself in the Philly area. We are in South Jersey, not too far from Center City. You don’t have to announce you’re coming, you don’t even have to let me know you’re there6. I don’t offer this as an, “this will convince him he’s completely wrong about going to church” un-vitation. We probably do a lot of things that would leave you banging your head on the wall. On the other hand, I think you’ll appreciate the eclectic nature of the group. Folks are goofy, fun, and think it’s funny when people take themselves seriously. I think you’d have fun.


  1. Also, lectures aren’t usually filled with people telling you how absolutely wonderful the event is – over, and over, and over, and over. I’m sure these people want to get out of there as much as I do, but they are contractually obligated to sell the product. 
  2. Or at least read other blogs which quoted your blog and wanted to chime-in. 
  3. I also need this same reminder, just in case you were wondering. 
  4. I’m a mystic, so it’s pretty easy for me to embrace this idea. Worship, as far as I can tell, is the act of stepping into the throne-room scene in Revelation. 
  5. Yup, potty humor. I went there. 
  6. We’re small, so we’ll all know a visitor has joined us, but I won’t recognize you, trust me (if that hurt your feelings feel free to borrow my metaphorical wiffle-ball bat of doom and give me a good wallup). Heck, even go by your middle name if you want (don’t give a false name, lying is a sin and then you’d have to confess and give your real name and it would kinda defeat the whole purpose). 

Mobile OS Shuffle

Blogsy

Android or iOS?

Last year I picked up a Google Nexus 7 so I could try out Android. I really like my Nexus 7, and as used it I began to wonder if Android could actually become my Mobile OS of choice. The portability of the Nexus 7 remains a compelling feature, and there are features on Android which iOS simply doesn't have (why can't I command-tab to switch apps, Apple?).

For the first half of the year I threw myself into using the Nexus as a primary device. I used it to write my sermons. I got a usb-to-go cable and played games with an Xbox 360 controller. I even purchased a season pass for a TV show. It was a lot of fun.

Eventually, however, I moved back to using my iPad 2 more and more. The screen wasn't nearly as good, and the keyboard support wasn't a full-featured, but when I used the iPad I didn't feel as though I was fighting my device as much. Each app I was in was used for one task, and that was it. The iPad helped me focus.

So, after nearly a year with my Nexus I've now settled whether or not I want to use it as my Tablet OS. While I think it's certainly capable, it's just not what I want to be using. For me, a tablet is a more focused computing experience than the way Android is designed. Apps in iOS feel more polished and integrated – they get out of my way and allow me to “just work.” This month I upgraded my tablet to an iPad Air and couldn't be happier with the device. The screen is stunning, and the speed of the new processor is absurd. I continue to enjoy my Nexus, and have no problem recommending the second generation Nexus 7 for anyone looking at a 7 inch tablet (and who doesn't want an iPad).

While I don't think Android is good to be used as my tablet OS, however, I may have found another use for Android in my work-flow. My Nexus 7 experience as made me think I would probably be very happy with Android as a phone OS. Android is very polished, and I don't use a lot of apps on my phone. Android's eMail, contacts, and calendar apps are stellar – and the other apps I use on my phone have nice Android counterparts. Google Now is an incredible feature, and on-screen keyboard in Android is heads and tails above the iOS one. Additionally, as my near-vision weakens (my 40's are doing a number on my eye-sight) the larger screens available on an Android device are becoming compelling. I actually would consider either a Galaxy Note or Nexus 5 as it would merge my small tablet and phone into one device (probably the Nexus, stock Android is the way to go).

In fact, Android is so good at this moment I have only two points which give me pause. First is iMessage. My son still doesn't have a phone (though that will change this year) and it's nice that he can use his iDevices to message me at will. Second is the camera. Every since I got my first iPhone my point and shoot camera has been collecting dust in a cabinet. Every comparison I've seen between the cameras in the iPhone and Android devices has had iOS coming out on top. Also, photostream has been a wonderful way to get my images on to my mobile device. Even images I load into Aperture through my DSLR are uploaded into it – it's something I would truly miss in an Android switch.

So, in the next year I will have see if I take my Android experiment to the next phase. We shall have to see.

 

iOS 7 – First Thoughts

iOS 7 launcher

When iOS 7 was first introduced at WWDC I was not all that thrilled with the operating system's skin. The icons and chrome seemed overly bright, like the type of reflective glare which tends to give me a headache. On the other hand, new features such as command center did impress me and I guardedly optimistic. Several weeks after WWDC my father-in-law showed me his iPad running an iOS 7 developer build and a lot of my apprehension at the color scheme evaporated. Don't get me wrong, the pallet is still too bright for my liking. In person, however, the icons and colors weren't quite as obnoxious as they were in screen shots. I began to look forward to the iOS 7 release.

This week I updated both my iPhone and iPad to the new OS and have had a chance to play around with it. Below are some early reflections.

Fonts

I like the switch to Helvetica Nueue for the system font. It's insane amount of font-weights makes it effective in the different tasks for which it's been drafted. The font is classy without being obnoxious.

On the other hand, this update also make me realize how my iPad 2’s screen is behind the times. The ultra-light font weight for certain elements isn't as smooth as on a retina display. This is the first time I could say, “Wow, this screen isn't really up to scratch.” I hope this year's iPad mini will a retina display, because the UI of iOS 7 really needs one if it's going to shine properly.

Apple has also added accessibility settings for bold text which, as a friend put it, “Makes it more usable without losing any class.” The adaptive font settings are nice as well. This could, however, be a bit easier to locate. A person who simply wants darker fonts, for example, might not think to look in “accessibility” options – to a person such as this, they are merely wanting to customize the look of the OS.

Keyboard

This is the one bit I really don't like about iOS 7. The over-bright pallet makes typing on the new keyboard rather tedious. It gives me a headache and I find I'm more likely to hit the wrong keys. The new keyboard may grow on me, but The keyboard in general should have gotten more attention than it did, it's not as fun to use as it once was and Android's keyboard options are generally more powerful.

Multitasking

I always drooled over the multitasking of webOS, now I have it in iOS 7. The multitasking in iOS 7 makes multitasking in my Nexus 7 look clunky by comparison.

This isn't to say it's perfect, the app previews aren't oriented correctly if you activate multitasking from an orientation different than from an app's last saved state. So if you open an app in portrait orientation, switch to using an app in landscape orientation, and then activate multitasking the app preview will be displayed sideways. A minor annoyance, but it needs to be corrected.

Apps

Using apps in iOS 7 feels much like the early days of OS X and it's “cocoa/carbon/classic” paradigm. Certain apps have been fully switched over to iOS 7 and take advantage of the new color pallet and system tools. Other apps have been partially switched over. These, such as Google+, have generally flattened their interface to fit into the iOS 7 feel, but under the hood they are still really apps that could run nicely on iOS 6. These are easily spotted when the system bar on the top of the screen goes black. The dead giveaway come when one needs to type some text and is greeted with the iOS 6 keyboard. I'm not complaining about having to use the older keyboard, I like it better, but the break in aesthetic is a bit jarring. Other apps simply haven't been updated at all for the new OS. They are hit and miss if they will run in iOS 7, but even if they do they look out of place. My favorite Markdown editor, WriteUp, is in this boat. It's works fine, but it looks out of place. Other older apps, such as Beejive have been rendered completely useless by the update. Much as with the OS X switch, developers are going to take some time to catch up, and many may opt to charge for their full iOS 7 versions when they come out. Given the nature of the App Store economy, this will be interesting to watch.

Thoughts

Watching iOS 7 emerge is fascinating for me. The operating system is a bit buggy and needs some refinements in terms of color and animations. It would be easy to say, “Apple is losing their edge in quality.” This would be wrong. Most iOS users, after all, are used to interacting with iOS only after several major iterations and dozens of minor refinements. It might be fair to think of iOS 7 as “iOS” in name only. In actuality, it's an entirely new entity and need to be treated as such.

The paradigm shift between classic MacOS and OS X is probably the closest parallel we have in Apple's ecosystem. When OS X came out there were familiar elements like the finder bar, but everything looked different. These surface differences, however, were nothing in comparison to the underlying changes in OS X. The switch to a Unix based OS wasn't a change change of Apple's skin, it was a change in the way the OS worked. This change was refined over several iterations, and developers gradually came on board with the new paradigm.

This seems to be where we are with iOS 7, only the initial experience seems to be more pleasant than the shift from MacOS classic seemed to be. It's going to take time to refine, but as the system is tweaked and improved I believe it will return to the consistent stability iOS users are used to. This is just the start of the iOS 7 journey, and we've only caught a glimpse of what Apple has in store with the shift to 64-bit computing in the 5s. It's going to be an interesting trip.

 

Automobile ordeal

The car we leased

The car we ended up leasing from Burlington VW

We were recently in an accident in which our car was totaled while we were at a dead stop. This meant being forced into buying a new car. I say, “forced” because I absolutely despise the entire process – I do not understand people who enjoy it.

As I went through the process this time around, I tried to reflect on why I hate it so much. Here's what I've come up with.

Unknown waters

I know nothing about the back-room world in which automobile purchasing actually takes place, nor do I want to know. I want a car which takes me to point “a” to point “b.” That's it. I don't drive that much, nor do I like to drive that much, so if my car turns on and is air-conditioned in the Summer I'm happy. As my needs are simple, I want the process to be simple. I know the dealer needs to make a living, so I'm fine with a markup — if they put their best price for the car on the sticker, with markup included, all would be well. In fact, this practice was why my first two cars were Saturns.

Dealership lockdown

I never appreciate being a captive audience. I don't appreciate this in churches, I don't appreciate it in meetings, and I certainly don't appreciate at a car dealer when I know I'm being manipulated. When I go somewhere, if I meeting length hasn't been set I mentally give people a certain amount of my time. After that time passes my frustration level begins to grow. When I go for a test drive, I'm fine giving someone an hour of my time. They can get my basic information, prep a car for a test drive, and take me to their desk to give me some extremely rough numbers. After that, I'm done. If I like the car, I'll be back.

This isn't how dealers work, they do everything but chain you to their desk. They hem, they haw, they talk to you about “your new car,” and they do not respect you. When you say, “Please, I need to think about it, and I have other cars to look at,” they smile and say, “OK, let me go get you one last thing before you go.” Then they bring in someone else who actually tries to make you feel awful for abandoning the dealer without allowing them to treat you well.

At our recent visit to Burlington Toyota, that's exactly how we felt. Even if we had liked the car we took on a test drive, we never would have given them our business. They made us feel stressed, pressured, and almost afraid. The process at the dealer was a form of mental and emotional assault. When we finally managed to flee, my wife described our feelings beautifully, “I feel like I need to take a shower.”

Friendly masks

I'm a public speaker by vocation – and in the past I've been an actor. As such, I often can spot a phony rather quickly and I don't want such people to act chummy with me. It doesn't matter if it's in church or on the car lot, when I encounter someone who is using their best “what can I do to put you into a new car/salvation/membership today?” I shut them out. The more they continue to use my name like we were intimates, the more tightly I shut down. Needless to say, this makes purchasing a car excruciating.

I don't appreciate the adversarial system in which a dealer tries to sneakily pry as much money out of my hands while pretending to be one of my best friends. I don't want my “friend” to quote me a price and then disappear when I tell them quite plainly I need to test-drive other cars before making a decision — only to return with a number over $100 less a month than the previous “well this is the best I can do” number. It infuriates me.

The flip-side

Contrast my negative experience with the dealer at which we did get a car – Burlington Volkswagon. At this location we test drove two cars, and let our salesperson know, “We are not buying tonight, we need to check other cars first.” The salesperson did his job, he touted the benefits of going with VW and took the time to give us some rough numbers. Then he gave us his card and let us go home. There was no pressure, just a laid-back experience in which he let us make up our own mind. When we returned the next day to check out the trunk space in one of the cars, he welcomed us back. When we asked to see a different model he took us out and waited for us to say we wanted another test drive. When we came back he offered us a decent deal which was slightly more than we wanted to pay, but after some finagling (and some great help from a friend on the other end of my text messages) we actually went with the deal as presented. Why? Because we felt we were being treated with respect.

As I look back on my life, I find a recurring pattern. In any situation where I find myself being deliberately backed into a corner I have a consistent response — I resist. When churches are pushy, I check out. When salespeople shove me, I won't buy. When car dealers take me hostage, I will fight for my freedom. What has always worked best for me is when someone expresses what they believe their benefits are, and then leaves me alone to make up my own mind. Why? Because when people give their best pitch and then let me walk away, I think they might actually believe what they are saying. For me, this makes a huge difference.

 

Amazing Art

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Amazing Art, a set on Flickr.

I meet some pretty wonderful people in my life. One of this is a person we’ll just call “Ms. P.” She’s a joy to be around and an extremely creative person (also a recent entrant into the world of iPad users, but that’s another story).

Recently Ms. P was stranded “above stairs” while an elevator got repaired, and busied herself with one of her more recent hobbies, painting. Not only was I shown her river scenes, she let me take images of many of her other paintings as well. These are the images which captured her art the best.

It’s not “high art,” and it doesn’t need to be. It’s the expression of someone who finds joy and wonder in creativity, and simply loves to share that joy with others. Keep in mind, Ms. P has only been painting for 7 years!

I’m drawn to people like her, not only because she is wonderful to be around but also because she embraces the reality that to be alive is to always be learning and growing.

Link

Getting things done online

Getting things done online

I have a longer post reflecting on my recent car buying experience in the pipe, until then please enjoy this post I wrote about online presentation applications over at LibArtTech.

Cornwall Iron Furnace

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Cornwall Iron Furnace, a set on Flickr.

Pennsylvania is known for it’s rich contributions to the development of American culture. Dotted through it’s landscape, in particular, are many sites signaling it’s role in the Industrial Revolution gaining a hold on these shores (and both it’s good and bad effects on our culture).

Cornwall Iron Furnace is one such site, it’s a fascinating place to visit.