Sunday, October 16, 2011

Where Occupy Wall Street is failing.

A friend on Google Plus found this video to carry some great moral weight. I find it truly sad.

Some may look at this video and see how the cops are intimidating the peaceful protesters and how The Man is personally harassing them. I, and also probably most conservatives or non-OWS fans, probably see spoiled, over-privileged punks insulting police.

If you've read anything else in this blog, you can probably guess that I have extreme sympathy for anyone complaining about what Francis Schaeffer called "noncompassionate use of wealth." Read Martin Luther's Admonition to Peace to see what words I would say to "Wall Street."

But effective protest should involve an attempt to convince someone by appealing to their conscience. Not just pushing on the cultural divide, like someone hopping on an axe that is stuck in wood. That is what these guys are doing. Rather than reach out to the extremely socially conservative blue-collar guy who might feel oppressed by Wall Street, this video sends them running into the arms of the Tea Party.

They also are not wearing khakis and polo shirts.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Beautiful video on overfishing.

This video looks great full screen
, and has important message about overfishing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Makehuman: if you're into that stuff

The development progress of the program makehuman is progressing nicely. They've got it to the point that it can export a fully rigged character to blender. Here is my first evening's attempt at such.

It's pretty cool, but right now it's a bit too much Uncanny Valley for me. I'll have to see if there are actually ways to reduce the realism and make more toonily-shaded characters with it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

A spiritually dangerous film from Focus on the Family

A Theological Review

of “Lesson 10 - The American Experiment: Stepping Stones”

by Focus on the Family’s “The Truth Project”

by Greg M. Johnson

The Christian view is that man lived in paradise until Adam upset relationship with God thousands of years ago. In the Christian view, the solution is Christ’s work on cross to restore humans’ relationship with God. Individuals remaining in unrepentant sin is dangerous because of Hell. What is necessary for humans is faith in Christ, or “a broken and contrite spirit.”

A view prevalent in certain Christian circles today, and in my opinion offered by the movie, sets up an entirely different narrative of the Fall. It is that USA enjoyed God’s blessings until secularists upset the relationship with God sometime in mid 1800’s. In this view, the solution is humans’ work to restore the country’s relationship with God. Country remaining in state of non-God-honoring is physically dangerous to the nation because God may remove the lampstand of Revelations 2 from the country. What very bad for humans is to “hate America.”

Problem: The speaker repeated a theme that “Without religion and morality, it is impossible to have liberty.” In the early days of the United States, we had a lot of religious fervor, but very little liberty. Thomas Jefferson put the word “God” on some public documents, but believed in a religion where it was okay to have sex with your slaves. George Washington put the word “God” on some public documents, but believed in a religion where it was okay to leave the babies of your slaves naked in winter. If religion were a requirement for liberty, then either: A) these men’s religion is apostate (in a far worse way than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s is), or B) the premise the “religion helps liberty” is false. I object to the films’ premise that the Founding Fathers were of my religion. They are not. I shake their religion from my shoes.

Problem: the speaker referred to the cycle of obedience, rebellion, punishment, repentance, and restoration for OT Israel and said that America was in the rebellion stage. His references to when things started to go wrong were in the mid-1800’s. I on the other hand cannot imagine a greater stage of rebellion than slaveholding. Is it okay for me to believe that the 1700’s were the worst part of rebellion rather than America’s “Eden?” God’s name was on the lips but our hearts were far from him. Undoing physical slavery was the principal work of God for his people in the OT. There is always sin, and I find his reference to 1700’s America as the “good old days” to be unbiblical.

Problem: the movie complained that “Jurisprudence” is now viewed as something that can evolve rather than being based on God’s word. Was our system of laws ever based on God’s word, per se, or one sect in one time’s understanding of it. I note that we went from Dred Scott (1857) to Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), which is a great thing. We went from saying it is okay for the government to keep different races in different schools to an “evolved’ (if you will) state where we don’t say that. As another example, in the year I was born, interracial marriage was illegal in the state I grew up in. The country’s understanding of interracial marriage has “evolved”: God be praised!

Problem: The movie set as a good thing from the old days, that there were Christian religious oaths as a test for holding office. I say, our country has aways been more like the towns of Paul’s epistles than OT Israel. Muslims, Jews, nonbelievers, and radically different flavors of Christianity exist. Is it workable in our society? Is it an outrage to God that the religious tests are gone? Luther said he’d rather be ruled by a wise pagan than a foolish Christian.

Problem: Revelations 2 is talking about a church. The speaker applied it to a country. This is very bad.

Problem: a boy at the beginning said that America was the “light of the world.” I confess someone Else to be. (One should neither teach children to say that, nor should one be a Unitarian Universalist preacher-- another speaker at the beginning of the film).

Agreements: Biblical Christianity is under attack. (First, I must add, it is under attack by this film). Secondly, it is under attack by an intelligentsia that is more dangerous than anything by the ACLU. If you listen to the broadcast media of scientific associations (Scientific American to IEEE Spectrum), you will hear educated people say that “religion mandates violence.” You will hear a cartoony distorted view of Christianity that is probably not actually taught or held to by many people: there is no Cross in this cartoon view, only a Hell, and a Hell that is arbitrarily dished out to basically good people. In one science podcast I used to subscribe to, a man claimed that someone shouldn’t be allowed a job in science if they believed in God.


1) Christ’s work on the Cross

2) Our repentance

3) A witnessing that has folks (or finds) folks in a state of “broken and contrite spirit” long before hell and the need to change where they are going is mentioned.

4) Apologetics work that points out to society that the moral and religious absurdities of 1700’s America and my own life are neither faithful to nor required by the bible, and only shows the need for Christ.

5) Good works, in proper context. (I like the way that Catholics call them “Works of Mercy”).

6) Honoring God in the public square, in a peaceable way that involves risk-taking with our own bodies, not in ways that involve fighting through the government over the right to put a symbol on a piece of land or “airtime” in a secular event.

Links to Original Material:

Outline of Lesson 10:

Truth Project Lessons:

Truth Project

Monday, July 25, 2011

Christina Aquilera!

I'm donating one post on this blog to the World Food Program's response to the Somali famine.

I don't know exactly what Christina Aquilera has to do with the famine, but it's probably nicer than seeing pic of starving baby, which was another option.

christina aguilera fighting hunger

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Christian life, summarized

"We accord our willing tribute of praise to him who seeks to ameliorate the condition of the poor, —to instruct and reclaim the ignorant and wretched dwellers in our lanes and alleys,—or to gather in the wandering outcasts on our streets to the house of God, where they may hear of pardon and peace through the precious blood of Christ."

This is a nice summary of the features of a Christian life, taken from John MacDuff's Able to Save, under the chapter of "Bearing Fruit".

Friday, June 10, 2011

Social Media Best Practices, IV

In this installment, I show how links in Twitter are just plain annoying and non-conversational.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Social Media Best Practices, III

In this video, I really tear into foursquare. I point out how boring and aggravating it is to pollute Twitter with 4sq links.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Cynical Speculation about Motivations behind Linux's Interface Problem

ANALOGY: My wife rented a car. She did not get my advance approval as to the make, model, or year of the auto. I did not even see it until a few seconds before I was supposed to drive it. I went outside, and there was a large minivan in the driveway. I got into the drivers seat and started it up. I didn't even have to think about how to turn it on and access the most critical and basis functions. The human interface from this 2010 model was essentially unchanged from the human interface on the 1970 car I learned to drive in. Across multiple manufacturers from multiple countries, nothing in the interface has radically changed, even though the car's engine & radio & heater & crash protection systems can do far more. I'm guessing the human interface had stabilized long before 1970.

No so with Linux. There are all sorts of problems with every new release. Audio doesn't work. A new desktop environment ships (KDE 4) which makes it impossible to transfer files from one directory to another via the file manager program. Another one (Unity) just befuddles expert users (Brian on Linux Action Show) to the degree that he asks what a Linux enthusiast is supposed to do. Jono Bacon of Ubuntu admitted to "The Linux Action Show" that Ubuntu 11.04 was a "patience release." Gnome 3 threatens worse. Five years ago, distros (OpenSUSE) were alternatively dropping and adding WiFi support. This sucks. What is so maddening, even to those "partisanly" in favor of the ideals of Linux, is that these interface-wrecks show up with a simple "dist upgrade."

Back to the car thing. Right now you can just hand a friend the keys to a car and expect them to be able to hop in your car and drive it. You only have to tell them where it's parked. But imagine cars were like linux. You'd take your car in for a service pak upgrade and BAM!-- you'd be faced with the problem of figuring out where the brake pedal was. The more intelligent among us could probably find the brake pedal with only a small time investment, but the point is why? Why are you fussing with the human interface each release? Are you completely incapable of tuning the engine, or do you see progress mostly as hiding the steering wheel each time? Most of us are very smart and even like to do logic puzzles in our spare time. But we don't like to have to solve logic puzzles when we're trying to do a job with a tool that worked fine yesterday.

I've been stewing about this since at least the first time I tried the first version of KDE4 that showed up with Kubuntu. I have three admittedly cynical speculations as to what's driving this:

  1. Linux devs really are that dumb.
    They are incapable of seeing what a normal human being--no, what a person who needs to do some work right now-- needs to do. They really do see hiding & wrecking the human interface as improvements. Perhaps it may be institutional myopia-- a bunch of blokes sitting in disparate basements across the world might not know the aggregate effect of their tweaking.

  2. Linux devs really are that mean
    They care not about making a working product. I once printed out a forum posting where one said he really didn't care if Linux became an OS for people's grandmothers. IMO, that's the exact same attitude as "don't care if we are ever Enterprise ready." They like hiding things, in the same way that frat boys like to haze freshmen. It keeps it an elite system for the elect.

  3. Business majors running Linux corps really are that cunning.
    Linux is released under the GPL. As such, they have to release the code to you but can sell support services. Anyone can get the code, but they can sell support. Many distros have an "enterprise" version and a "community" version, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux vs. Fedora. or SLED vs. openSUSE. The community versions are probably what both the uber Linux power-users will seek out and the grannies of the world will stumble on to. These two groups are the ones who will be the most maddened or turned off of Linux by this jerking-around. My cynical speculation is that the business majors running the Linux corps do not care. The more cynical of them might even be able to reason a business advantage out of the rage. If you were in a situation where you were forced to release a free version of your product, could you see an advantage in making your free version buggy & klunky & unpredictable, which would either drive people to get the heck out of there, or to get a business subscription to the corporate version? That's my guess. This possible motivation is more evil, perhaps, but it gives the corps running Linux more credit for having some business smarts.

Disclaimer: my day job involves a company that is involved in Linux, but I myself have nothing to do with this area of the company. I work in computer hardware. Opinions solely my own and based on my own interactions as a hobbyist Linux enthusiast.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

How to Twitter

First, get an account, at

Then, decide what you want to learn about. Pick two to ten things that interest you: knitting, NASCAR, rabbit raising, fishing, NBA, etc. For each of these, if you already were to know a famous person in that category, say Dale Earnhardt, Jr., or Danica Patrick for NASCAR, go find out his or her Twitter feed. Type in the name in search box under "Who to Follow" link on Twitter. Just be warned that some celebrities have had pranksters (or earnest fans) create fake accounts in their name: some of these accounts are useful, some are not. Click on their name, then "View Full Profile." "Follow" him or her. Then go to that person's "Following" list and Follow the whole list-- everyone on the list. Don't worry for now as to getting "too many"-- you'll weed out the creft later. On to your next interest. Say you're a huge fan of Pixar movies and like especially the ones directed by Andrew Stanton. Find him-- his userid is actually "6Mman", and follow everyone he's following. You could also just search for a topic -- try "rabbit raising." Follow everyone.!/who_to_follow!/DALEEARNHARDT8!/DALEEARNHARDT8/following!/DanicaPatrick!/DanicaPatrick/following!/6Mman!/6Mman/following

Perhaps you need some more. Go to, and search for some celebrities your admire or topics you are interested in. For example, if you're a Lutheran, you could go search for "lutheran" . Follow lots and lots of people-- maybe both Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner. Again, when you find interesting persons, go and follow ten or twenty people that they follow as well.

Hopefully, you will have gotten to a thousand people to follow. One mistake I made when I started Twitter was worrying too much about all the textual garbage that shows up when you view the tweets a person has made when you "View Full Profile". There may be many messages to individual Tweeps in the form of "@Johnny blah blah blah" but these won't show up in your view of Twitter unless you also follow the person addressed. Use instead the quality of tweets in your timeline to decide whom to unfollow.

Now weed out the creft.

Now look at your Timeline. Some people on twitter are saying or sharing links to things which are witty, entertaining, inspirational, or highly useful all day long. On the other hand, some people are repeating themselves every few hours, engaged in inside jokes, puffing themselves up, making a half-dozen posts in a row, and other behaviors that wouldn't be tolerated at a dinner party. Unfollow them. You don't have to apologize, this is not a social friendship in the same way that Facebook friends are. Think of them as news feeds. Do you apologize to CNN for turning off the channel? There are also a number of practices that some Tweeps engage in that are not helpful. If you see someone you admire say something like, "Follow my friend @Johnny, he has links to great steak recipes," that is, give a reason for following him, you may want to follow Johnny. If however you see, "#FF @Johnnie @Billie @Suzie @Millie @Maureen @Doreen @Squidleen", then you probably want to unfollow this person. There is a silly tradition by some to just blindly mention names of people to follow. If you watch these tweeps, you'll find that some of them recommend the same folks over and over-- get out while you can. I find it annoying. There's also an absurd tradition to "Retweet" the "#FF" when you get mentioned; probably some fools who will offer thanks back for the retweeted #FF. Do you see the point? At a dinner party, a friend tells you "Johnny thanked me for thanking him." ???!! It pollutes the stream with text that our already overloaded eyes have to jump over to get to the next tweet. Another pet peeve is multilingual tweets. I'm unfortunately monolingual, so if someone posts even 10% of the time in another language, my eyes get tripped up as it takes me a few seconds to figure out it's a different language.

If you start making tweets and start to get followers, don't worry about following them back. Some are spammers & phishers, some are shameless commercial promoters, some just have bad "dinner party" conversational habits. Some are real people wanting to converse. Again, CNN & Barack Obama & John Boehner will not probably not follow you back. Personally, I do not expect them to follow me until I have built a reputation for the kind of tweet they are interested in.

What's the optimal number of people to follow? Well, for basic users, Twitter has a limit of 2000. My advice first is to grab quickly a thousand people who might seem to be interesting, then weed out any and everyone over the course of a few weeks who makes a single post that is either annoying, uninspiring, or unintelligible to you. You'll probably still have a few hundred, and just check the stream when you can.

If anyone else is boring, tweets too much, or gives unintelligible information, get rid of them. This is your feed. Don't worry about having more total tweets coming in to your timeline than you can read in one day. Twitter is like a dinner party, or a webcam feed from the coolest dinner party ever. Tune in when you can, then turn it off and get on with your real life.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Climate Gate, explained.

It contains at least one mistake. The professor should be saying, “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” I made a mistake with a dangling "f" when I had to break the comment into two frames.

and the whole set should end with, "Even if the science of future climate change were debatable, I don't think that I'd trust anyone who denies that the globe itself isn't warming." The video tends to knock off the last phrase.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Social Media Best Practices

What if people used social media in the same way that they talked in real life? What if people talked in real life the way they do in social media?

I say what's stupid in one setting is stupid in the other.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Space Walk

Here's an image I made in povray. In the background is NASA's recent image of Mercury from the MESSENGER mission. The image is no where near complete. But it's at that stage where I'm just throwing elements together. Sometimes these early versions have so much genius to them by accident, that you can never improve upon, only destroy, with intentional tinkering.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Which kind of universalism?

Here's a quick post on my take on the recent controversies related to universal salvation. (Rob Bell).

Some may point to passages that seem to imply that Christ saves everyone, not merely that his death could save everyone, but that it in fact does save everyone regardless of their religious view or faith in Him. I do not share this view because I believe it to be disproven resoundingly by a host of other bible passages.

But even if you were take the view that Christ saved all, there are two very different ways to apply this conviction. Different in terms of how you would evangelize, how you'd talk to folks in other religions.
  1. One is to walk into the mosque or synagogue (or the parking lot of such if you are shy) and proclaim, "You are all saved because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God!".
  2. Another is to proclaim, "You are saved by God. You honor this God by worshiping and teaching exactly as you have been doing! Have a pleasant day!" Then you see a the person who doesn't attend any religious observances at all and you hand him the county interfaith directory and say, "Please pick one and become devout at it in order to be saved."

The people I've met and read about who seem to exhibit leanings towards universal salvation seem to have this this Type 2 (above) Evangelism. It's as if they decided first and foremost to be good citizens in the Interfaith Council and then bent a religion around that view. Of course, one should be a good citizen in the (secular) community, but this is not always the exact same this as advancing the interests of the Interfaith Council. It's pushing religion.

I find it to be most deceptive, illogical, and unbiblical. Now, if someone were teaching every week that Jesus was either a myth or not divine or not raised, isn't that more of a problem to the God of the bible than the person who rarely thinks about Him at all? If anything, I would guess that if you actually believed in Christ and met someone who didn't believe in any god, it would be better to leave that nontheistic person alone rather than insist they pick another religion.

IMAGE CAPTION: Pick one, no less than one, or else!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Multi-speed, curved, walk cycles on the moon

This animation was inspired both by the scenes in 2001 where astronauts exercise by jogging on the inside of a curved spaceship and a Mario Brothers game where Mario runs around little planets. I also wanted to show of the versatility of my walk system in povray. I've got characters walking according to curves in 3D space and multiple speeds.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Walk around the world

More tweaking of povray walk cycle code. Testing out that I can make the walk path lie on a nonplanar surface.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Man through maze, second draft.

In this version, I simply put in a natural_spline for the spline that controls time-to-position along the path, and this makes for a very natural acceleration. The red dots are on the ground every nth increment of time.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

It got cold last night!

I noticed that yesterday, between 2PM and 2AM, the temperature dropped-- it did not increase-- thereby disproving all claims of so-called "global warming". Wait, do you find that a dense observation? Okay, I suppose that I note it got colder from September to December of this year? Is the theory of climate change disproved, or am I still dense? Okay, what if we go to a really, really cold winter? Is it dense still? Would it leave a false impression if I were to go find proof of a very cold winter season (during a calendar year which scientists say ties for the warmest on record), and only mention the winter part of the story?

NOAA's report says,
"According to NOAA scientists, 2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest year of the global surface temperature record, beginning in 1880. This was the 34th consecutive year with global temperatures above the 20th century average. For the contiguous United States alone, the 2010 average annual temperature was above normal, resulting in the 23rd warmest year on record."

Just a reminder that if the average of something, say school buses' weights, were increasing year to year, then it is no disproof of the average weight change if you were able to point to one really skinny kid on the bus. In temperature terms, that means that the summers got hotter than any cold parts got colder.

Now let's discuss this. There you are, sitting in your chair, not thinking about the weather at the moment, and someone comes up to you and makes sure that you have information that this past winter was really cold. Then they go and mention "global warming" and "the religion of climate change". This is what happened in my reading of Frank Turk's Pyromaniacs blog. It's a blog with religious and Christian themes, not a blog about science. My view is that if you had kept up to date with the scientific data (not the theories, just the raw data), you would be questioning whatever political or religious philosophy that inspired such posturing.

What views of government and religion are threatened by the data?
  • In my view, biblical Christianity, the doctrine of the church historic is not. Martin Luther, in explaining the meaning of the Seventh Commandment (Thou Shalt Not Kill), in his Large Catechism, said,
    "It is just as if I saw some one navigating and laboring in deep water [and struggling against adverse winds] or one fallen into fire, and could extend to him the hand to pull him out and save him, and yet refused to do it. What else would I appear, even in the eyes of the world, than as a murderer and a criminal?
    So Christianity isn't threatened by worrying about people drowning. It demands it. It points to how helping those who are laboring in deep water is a way to honor the commandments. It also tells us how greed and covetousness isn't God's will.
  • In my view, free market economics and a philosophy of small government is not threatened. Say, take the issue of some toxic chemical or bird flu virus strain. If I am convinced that something threatens the public, this information doesn't threaten free market economics. I could first and foremost pull the plug on all tax subsidies, and I could strive to make sure that the court system doesn't prevent those who have been damaged by the product from seeking damages. Those two things would go a long way to addressing the problem, more so than "regulation". I could also refrain from dissing those who use the public square to educate the public about the dangers. I could also refrain from publishing misinformation, spurious pieces of data.
  • Humanism, per se, isn't even threatened, at least not that kind that is defined by thinking highly of humans. Humans produce poop and CO2. Our civilization long ago got used to the idea that people ought to be careful how they handle one product of their body, where they put it. What's so strange that another body product has to engender equal care?

    What is threatened?
  • In my opinion, in religion, a gospel reductionism or antinomianism is surely threatened. Wordnet defines Antinomianism as: "The theological doctrine that by faith and God's grace a Christian is freed from all laws (including the moral standards of the culture)" In my opinion, one reason so many conservatives are upset about global warming is because it presents a place where they are being called to repentance. Their churches aren't doing it, focusing instead on choosing the correct team.
  • A statist conservatism is threatened. If you got chills at the idea above of people being able to sue over pollution, I think you're a bit statist. Pollution is a subsidy. You want the state to prevent people from getting compensation for damages they suffer, because the damage-ers are politically favored, or something called "civilization" benefits.

These criticisms are not directed at the person who doesn't care about global warming. They are not directed at folks who don't understand the science, or are troubled by all the arguing, or even skeptical. My criticisms are directed at those whose philosophies are troubled by the possibility of woefully sinful behavior in your everyday actions. At those who introduce scientific topics into religious settings, and in so doing misrepresent the facts-- not the esoteric theories or predictions, but the actual facts that a fifth grader could verify, like whether 2010 was hot.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

More povray walking along a path

A pastor friend asked me to make a video of a man walking through a maze. Here's the first draft, showing my walking system in action.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Top Twelve Twitter Sins

1) SIN: Post in more than one language. Maybe I'm a lowbrow, but I only know one language, and suddenly finding something in a language I don't speak really disrupts the enjoyable, quick scanning that is possible with a long Twitter read list.
SOLUTION: Why don't you instead set up _es, _en, and _fr separate accounts.

2) SIN: Post more than two items in a row. I note that The Washington Post, CBS News, USA Today, even three local papers in my region, never post more than two in a row. But the paper for my hometown makes ten posts in a row randomly sometime between 6 AM and 7AM. Twitter is like a dinner party or a discussion in a university philosophy or history class. That is: talking much during a class may be tolerated only if you really were that profound; talking uninterruptedly in one stretch would be taken universally as a sign of arrogance.
SOLUTION: Get Hootsuite and set up delayed postings if you have lots of stuff to say right now.

3) SIN: Same exact text, back to back, from an "org" and a "person." Somewhere along the line I must have subscribed not only to a humanitarian or artistic or scientific organization, but also to the one guy or gal who runs it. In three separate situations, I've found the same text in back to back posts, and felt my intelligence insulted.
SOLUTION: Give up delusions of grandeur.

4) SIN: Cursing. In one case, I watched a guy post on a political topic over the course of days and go from a mindset of determination to unfocused sexual cursing. Like dude, were you upset that the world's leaders weren't reading & obeying your Twitter feed? Before you call me a prude, it wasn't just the "f" or "d" words, but described his enemies with references to women's bodies parts. That demeans women and is surely ad hominem. (But if you agree with me on the sexual cursing, maybe I have a point on the f & d words < wink > ). The cursing at the end of the month only gave reason for unfollowing to those who might have shared his conviction at the beginning of the month. I've been known to curse at times, but I am of the opinion that loose use of it shows a lack of critical thinking.
SOLUTION: Get off my lawn!!

5) SIN: Foursquare. I'll subscribe to any interesting artist or scientist around the world, but I'm not interested in where he or she ate pancakes. I have enjoyed tweets from multiple tweeps about how they enjoyed a meal, but 4sq links about their presence at a diner just annoy. I realize that there are a myriad of users will have a myriad of purposes for using Twitter, and some of these will be connecting with friends. But I'm not interested in knowing that my f2f friend became mayor of a train station.

6) SIN: Same post AM & PM. Some days, Twitter has been the first thing I read before retiring and first thing I read upon rising. And I've found the same post from the same guy (new time stamp, of course!) Isn't this an insult to the readers? SOLUTION: Get a life.

7) SIN: "The 'blank' Daily is out!" I respect what is doing, but the announcement in a Tweet that a paper is out is non-information to the reader.
SOLUTION: put it in your profile.

8) SIN: "Retweet for charity". Maybe I'm a Scrooge here, but shouldn't the person giving cash just go and do it? I wonder, if this practice is not overly tacky, that I should set up a few dozen fake Twitter accounts to make retweets from. Isn't that what the person is after?
SOLUTION: give cash directly, and do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.

9) SIN: Links to things that do not give me the promised information on the first click. It's on a site with click-thru ads, buried somewhere deep on a busy page, or to be found on a link from your meta-site.
SOLUTION: Consider the user's time and trust, both of which you just spent unwisely.

10) SIN: Polluting the hash tag stream. In one case, I wanted to learn about a religious denomination. Human Resources employees of the denom's pastors' pension fund were trying to get all the pastors in the denom to do some paperwork. So two of them made a couple of tweets a day urging pastors to to this paperwork, for weeks. Q: Were all pastors following that hashtag (are a tenth of them even on Twitter? )? Was the purpose to annoy all pastors (let alone laypeople) until the last one fills out the paperwork? But that's not the bigger problem. Several well-meaning members of the denomination kept retweeting the announcements every day, I guess as a way of supporting the financial health of the denomination. So, to go to this hashtag, one would find it filled with retweets of the same bureaucratic announcements, reworded each day. The value was lost, I gave up going there, I imagine others would too. And that, my friend, must be a way in which the retweeting harmed the denomination more than its ability to help it (because of filled-out paperwork).

SOLUTION: Think about the aggregate effects of what you are doing!

11) SIN: dumping same content, verbatim, into every social media internet service that exists. For a time, I was following President Obama on both Twitter and Facebook. That is, I would actually read the material that came from both sources. When your brain sees the same exact words twice, you feel gamed, that subscribing to one of the sources is a waste of time. An equally dense version of this is using your Twitter feed to encourage folks to come to your Facebook page. (Will we find invites to go to the Twitter feed there?
SOLUTION: Give different angles-- even stick through a thesaurus machine or something-- if you're going to dump material into multiple media.

12) SIN: Follow Fridays, and thanks for RT.
SOLUTION: Abstain!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saving Lutheranism from Ayn Rand

Note: Blogger is preventing me from formatting this note in the way I desire. For a cleaner-reading copy, please see:

First of all, let me stress that I believe there are serious theological problems in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I have occasionally been dumbstruck by some of the “theological liberalism” coming from official publications or media of churchwide office. Here are some examples:

i) The Grace Matters radio show and podcast was billed as “the radio ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” One of their episodes took pains to attack the idea that the bible could provide a motivation for humanitarian concern for the disabled. It was promoting the view that “the healing stories of Jesus in the bible show an anti-disability bias” and “were probably put in there by someone with an agenda to prove the divinity of Jesus.”

ii) The study guide for the Journeying Faithfully Together books published the the ELCA were meant to facilitate small-group discussions in ELCA congregations about sexual ethics. The booklet touted Jungian spirituality as offering insights to Christians, and implied homosexual persons were more spiritually attuned than others. ‘The psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung held that homosexually oriented people were often endowed "with a wealth of religious feelings, which help to bring the ecclesia spiritualis [church of the spirit] into reality, and a spiritual receptivity which makes them responsive to revelation." ‘

Here is how I sum up this “liberal theology”: Scripture does not reliably confess a divine Jesus; people with an agenda put that into the text. The parables of Jesus’ healing don’t show God’s compassion for us or a model of how to treat our neighbor but are instead a source of prejudice against the disabled. Gay and lesbian persons are better spiritually because Carl Jung told us.

Now I believe this kind of theology to represent neither all nor certainly the best of the ELCA. But if material like this got into its national media, then no wonder people wanted to reform it!

Given these problematic examples of an approach to scripture and church tradition that is completely foreign to that of my own, I have great sympathies, if not some allegiances, with those who were trying to “reform” the ELCA and Lutheranism. In a book published by the reform group WordAlone, By Whose Authority?, a case was made that social justice had become the raison d'etre for this denomination. Surely, too much of any good thing -- any thing-- can be bad. But is its complete absence any better? Or how about a bitter sarcasm for that thing-- for something that has been part of church tradition for centuries?

Around Christmas 2010, I read three pieces by “reform-minded” Lutherans which offered an approach to social justice and concern for the unfortunate that are completely foreign to my understanding of scripture, the Lutheran confessions, and church tradition.

The first was a tongue-in-cheek statement from “Bishop Barbie”. Bishop Barbie is the nom de plume of a satirist within (ex-ELCA?) Lutheran circles who jokes about matters from a theologically or politically conservative perspective. This person published a “Barbie who saved Christmas” story on “her” blog:

“You see, boys and girls, the true message of Christmas has nothing to do with sin, death or the power of the devil being overcome by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The true message of Christmas is not the coming of God’s Son into the world to redeem the world from its bondage. The true story of Christmas is a message of social justice, where you learn to care about the Bob Cratchits of the world because it is the right thing to do (with or without your exemplar, Jesus). “

My view: it is of course reprehensible that anyone within Lutheranism could have the view satirized here-- social justice minus “sin death, power of the devil overcome by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” I wouldn’t doubt that too many Lutherans do have this view. Equally reprehensible, however, is the view that social injustices (as the world is talking about them) have nothing to do with “sin, death, and the power of the devil”: that there were a dichotomy! The message from “Barbie” here is that social injustices are worthy of no “air time” within a Christian’s faith walk, that the most important thing for biblically minded peopled to do about social injustices is to mock the machinations of denominations who talk about them. Similarly, Bishop Barbie’s Facebook status once featured a parody of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” . In the ensuing list of the parody, we see juxtaposed the “Ten Signs of Justice”, “Four Fair Trade stoles” with “Prayers to …[sic] ” and “Five De-i-ties!”. The satirist is lumping concern for the oppressed with being unsure about who or what God is. In contrast, I actually went to two different congregations’ Christmas services this year. One was ELCA, one was non-Lutheran evangelical. Both times I heard a bible passage mentioning justice as being part of Jesus’ mission.

During the Offering at my ELCA congregation’s Christmas Eve service, I made the mistake of checking my email on my smartphone. There was a letter from the WordAlone organization which contained an article, “The Crisis of Christmas”, published by Pastor Jaynan Clark. I figured it’d be fine to read more inspirational Christian material during this lull-- wouldn’t it? Pastor Clark introduced her article by saying she took an email that was originally addressed to “liberals and conservatives”, but she had transposed the two groups to be “Those Conformed to the World” and “Those Being Transformed by Jesus and the Work of the Spirit.” That right there ought to give one pause. I personally take pains to put “theologically” in front of the words “liberal” or “conservative” when talking about theological movements within Christianity. Sometimes it seems that there are folks who conflate the “conservative” as used by political pundits like Sean Hannity with the “conservative” approach to scripture that say, theologians like James Nestingen might have. There’s a difference between preserving the social order (warts and all) and preserving the confession handed down to us through the centuries. I would contrast Clark’s schismatic address with those of Pope John Paul II. I note a tendency in his encyclicals to address them various church leaders, various Christians, and “persons of goodwill.” JPII included the humanitarian-minded non-Christian in his addresses, and I think this was a brilliant witness. You open the door to evangelization by acknowledging that some folks are already allied with a part of the church’s mission. Pastor Clark’s goes

To those conformed to this world:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.

The best wishes for “Those Conformed” including a holiday that is “environmentally conscious, socially responsible”. Again, I was dumbstruck over the idea that having environmental and social concerns goes hand in hand with being conformed to the world. I could just as easily imagine that indifference to your neighbor’s suffering is fruit of being conformed. After mentioning “America”, the piece offers a disclaimer: “Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere.” Is this a jibe at those who aren’t sufficiently nationalistic? The piece continues with a fairly good theology of the cross, offered of course to the conservatives / “Those Transformed by Jesus”.

It’s just two quotes from the Lutheran reformers, but I only had two quotes from the headquarters of the ELCA. Perhaps it would be fairer to judge a movement based not only on its sarcastic moments alone but also on a scholarly exposition of its views in one of its magazines. Later in the week I read “Focus: Feed the Hungry,” by Pastor Joseph S. Copeck, in the November/ December 2010 issue of Connections: a magazine for evangelical Lutheran Christians. It was published by Bible Alive Ministries and the issue featured many articles by officers of the WordAlone organization and/or pastors of the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ denomination. If it matters to anyone, I believe I received a copy in the mail because I have given money to WordAlone several times over the past decade.

I suppose it would be fruitful to start by citing the places I agree with Pastor Copeck. He says, “Our Lord commands us to feed the hungry.” He cites many different ways to raise money and provide outlets for direct relief of the hungry. He also stresses the need for evangelism of the poor, not to “leave out the food that feeds the soul-- the Word of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He also talks of how Christians have to be careful in handling the potentially difficult situation this arises-- “When [receiving] faith is too connected to the food or clothing given, it can become a coercive push toward belief in Christ.” All of these are good thoughts.

So what did I find objectionable, does anything warrant the tying of “Ayn Rand” to this flavor of Lutheranism? He cites problems: “hunger campaigns connected to specific political goals,” “solving the world’s problems,” “common connection of alleviating world hunger with political solutions.”

While it would be bad for the church to reduce the struggle to alleviate hunger to mere political advocacy, it’s equally naive to think that political problems themselves don’t cause hunger. From wars to trade rules, government policies affect hunger. These items have been on the radar scope of social justice Christians and advocacy organizations like Bread for the World. I would note that Bread for the World’s financial supporters include the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod World Relief and Human care, Catholic Charities USA, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops-- groups that ought to have some street cred in theologically conservative circles. While we shouldn’t worry too much about whether the new Lutheran groups will give financial support to Bread for the World, per se, I do wonder what kind of witness they would have on policy problems that oppress the poor. I would note that talking to princes has been a part of the faith tradition: Moses said to a Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” Likewise, it’s not like our denomination isn’t named after someone who ever wrote a letters to a prince. Luther’s “Admonition to Peace” not only warned the peasants against rabble-rousing but also told princes and lords that their own unjust treatment was directly responsible for the unrest. Luther might be accused of “seeking political solutions”, but he was also calling those who abused the poor to repentance. Let me say that again: he wrote to get them to turn from a sin, not just to affect some sociological benefit to the country. Luther spoke of a spiritual effect on the princes as a result of their active deeds of oppression, at least including God’s wrath. Now today, on this whole planet, are there no cases where employers or princes are abusing the poor worse than those in Luther’s day? Is anyone, to these contemporary oppressors, preaching a “repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name?” I do see a lot of sarcasm directed at those who make complaints of injustices, in politically conservative circles of Lutheranism.

Pastor Copeck makes a few mentions of Pope Benedict XVII. But I don’t think that the philosophy of his piece meshes with other writings of Benedict XVII. His Encyclical Letter, Caritas in Veritate, says

The market is subject to the principles of so-called commutative justice, which regulates the relations of giving and receiving between parties to a transaction. But the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates. In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well. Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust, the market cannot completely fulfil its proper economic function. And today it is this trust which has ceased to exist, and the loss of trust is a grave loss. [Emphases original]


Furthermore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church goes so far as to say:

1938 There exist also sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women. These are in open contradiction of the Gospel: Their equal dignity as persons demands that we strive for fairer and more humane conditions. Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace.44

In these two quotes, there is a specific call to address “the world’s problems”, to struggle against them, if not “solve” them. My analysis of one’s responsibility to the poor, in Catholic doctrine, is that istcannot limited to handing over materials goods from one’s excess.

I see that this quote from the Catechism has the word, “social justice” in it. Pundit Glen Beck famously said last year that conservatives should leave congregations that have “Social justice” on their web pages. Frankly, that this kind of sentiment is popular in many political circles made me more sensitive to how Christian reform groups talk about justice. I would note that at the time of this writing, Google had 589 hits for “social justice” at the Vatican’s web site. Should (political) conservatives leave the Catholic Church, or at least leave off quoting Catholic scholars? Indeed, I am heartened that the popes have been making annual Messages on the topics of "World Day of Peace”, “World Day of the Sick, “World Food Day”, “World Day of Migrants and Refugees." Can’t you imagine Bishop Barbie or an article in First Things making fun if these Messages were to come a mainline denomination bureaucrat?

I think that social justice and solving the worlds problems are part of the tradition of the church historic, it’s just often under-reported. John Bunyan wrote “The Life and Death of Mr. Badman.” In it, he makes reference to, naturally, a bad man, and catalogs a list of sins. Here is an extended excerpt:

Well, this Badman was a sad wretch ...

As for Example: There is a poor body that dwells, we will suppose, so many miles from the Market; and this man wants a Bushel of Grist, a pound of Butter, or a Cheese for himself, his wife and poor children: But dwelling so far from the Market, if he goes thither, he shall lose his dayes work, which will be eight pence or ten pence dammage to him, and that is something to a poor man. So he goeth to one of his Masters or Dames for what he wanteth, and asks them to help him with such a thing: Yes, say they, you may have it; but withall they will give him a gripe, perhaps make him pay as much (or more) for it at home, as they can get when they have carryed it five miles to a Market, yea and that too for the Refuse of their Commodity. But in this the Women are especially faulty, in the sale of their Butter and Cheese, &c. Now this is a kind of Extortion, it is a making a prey of the necessity of the poor, it is a grinding of their faces, a buying and selling of them.

But above all, your Hucksters, that buy up the poor mans Victuals by whole-sale, and sell it to him again for unreasonable gains, by retale, and as we call it, by piece meal; they are got into a way, after a stingeing rate, to play their game upon such by Extortion: I mean such who buy up Butter, Cheese, Eggs, Bacon, &c. by whole sale, and sell it again (as they call it) by penny worths, two penny worths, a half penny worth, or the like, to the poor, all the week after the market is past.

These, though I will not condemn them all, do, many of them, bite and pinch the poor by this kind of evil dealing. These destroy the poor because he is poor, and that is a grievous sin. He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want. Therefore he saith again, Rob not the poor because he is poor, neither oppress the afflicted in the gate; for the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of them that spoile them.

Oh that he that gripeth and grindeth the face of the poor, would take notice of these two Scriptures! Here is threatned the destruction of the Estate, yea and of the Soul too, of them that oppress the poor. Their Soul we shall better see where, and in what condition that is in, when the day of Doom is come; but for the Estates of such, they usually quickly moulter; and that sometimes all men, and sometimes no man knows how.

Bunyan here is complaining about actions that are not socially responsible, about a social injustice. He is complaining about the worlds problems. But more importantly, his motivation for the complaints of these business practices appear to be not limited to the sociological, but the spiritual. Bunyan mentions the Soul. Bunyan in effect ties the works of “sin, death, and the devil” to legal, mutually voluntary transactions in a free marketplace. Now is there no business anywhere on earth today doing anything less compassionate than Bunyan’s contemporaries? I’ve heard worse criticisms of WalMart. Who will preach to them? More importantly, who is sardonically mocking those who are making any such kind of complaint in a Christian setting? Pastor Copeck mentioned evangelizing the poor; how about the oppressors of the poor, too?

Some may say, “I have a different way of helping these people,” or “the church must not be involved in politics,” or, “the church must not endorse one piece of legislation or one political philosophy.” These criticisms are fair enough. The controversy here is not who to vote for, which bill in Congress is God’s will. It’s about proclaiming law and gospel to lost souls, to unrepentant sinners. The church ought not be a (direct) player on the political stage. It is, however, a major player on the philosophical stage, and some philosophies ask it to be quiet. I believe this plants the seeds for Antinomianism and Gospel Reductionism.

I would note that in the 2005 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, there were votes not only on homosexuality but also Palestine. First 51% opposed a resolution that would have allowed non-celibate homosexual persons to serve as pastors. Secondly 75% voted in favor of a resolution expressing concern about Israel’s wall-building in Palestine. I would venture to speculate about the makeup of the denomination based on these votes. Half might be “theologically liberal” on the biblical record on sexual ethics, but “social justice” on oppressed people. One quarter might be “theologically conservative” on sex, and “politically” conservative on criticizing U.S. allies. In my opinion, these two slices of the pie are very well represented in the dominant factions that have come forth in American Lutheranism since then. I believe that there is another quarter who were theologically conservative, peace-and-justice Christians within Lutheranism and do not have a voice now. That is my cry.

Back to Christmas. I had mentioned how I attended two different church’s services on Christmas. At the evangelical congregation, there was a beautiful musical service, accompanied by everything from violin to electric guitar. One of the hymns was, “O Holy Night.” Given the shock earlier in the day (Pastor Clark’s letter), these words hit my soul like a freight train:

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;

And in His name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.

Social Justice intruding into Christmas! Oh woe to those ignoring sin death and the power of the devil! ;-) But the “politics” of this hymn were prefaced with:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Maybe you can both talk about social injustices and proclaim Christ’s victory over sin. For some of the time, for some of the people, the two might go hand in hand.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name.

Then I wondered if the hymn were somehow foreign to Lutheranism. I googled, O Holy Night + Lutheran. It was everywhere, “even” in those of the most theologically conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The dichotomy is a harmful myth.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

On civil discourse

Martin Luther said that a Christian's response to an attack containing a false charge ought to be, "God be praised! I am innocent!" (The "God be praised" being sincere thanks that someone would take time to call someone to repentance (for ...the better of soul or society??).) In certain political circles today, any criticism involving pointing out consequences of someone's actions is now referred to as "Hate on."

While liberalism is probably synonymous with "Antinomianism" or licentiousness in religious circles, I think today's conservatism has the same flaw. When it focuses on whether folks have made the right religious choice and not focused on a "preaching of repentance," you've got probs. All dialogue becomes a matter of "clearing the bench" (baseball brawl) for the right team.