Saturday, December 31, 2005

Thunderheads on the Horizon?

In Dean Koontz's Fear Nothing, scientists create cross-species genetic therapies that spiral out of control with freakish results. One of the peripheral characters, in cahoots with the scientists, places his faith in their ability to eventually control the damage and perfect the process--in part, because of his hopes for a "cure" for his Downs Syndrome-afflicted son. "God had his chance," he says. "Now it's our turn."

Man always wants his shot to improve on God's design. To "fix" it. Nowhere is this arrogant drive more disturbing and fraught with ultimate risk than in our experimentation with the genetic building blocks of life itself. Of course, the goals of the ambition are almost always perfectly benign and may yield attractive results. Such has been the case with Genetically Modified (GM) crops and foods. We in the United States have been producing and consuming them for about a decade with no serious, measurable damage.

But then, there are clouds gathering on the horizon. Here's how one good idea--engineer crops that are resistant to herbicides so that the weedkillers kill only the weeds--is already going astray. Turns out the weeds are picking up the genetic traits of the herbicide-resistant crops and are themselves becoming resistant to the poisons. Ooops. Never saw that one coming.

And this is always the problem with assuming that our knowledge runs deeper than it does in truth. Something to temper, perhaps, evangelical zeal when exegeting Scripture. How many times have I heard "as the Bible plainly says..." in an evangelical sermon when half as many times out of ten it isn't so plain at all. The damage from that kind of arrogance runs far deeper and more subtlely than the damage from scientific missteps.

So in 2006, a little more humility and reverence for Scripture and creation would be really, really nice.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Godscrum: Episode 11 is Live

Yes, Episode 11 is live! Mrs. Zeke joins us for the final episode of 2005. Spiritual histories, spiritual gifts, plus some of what's in store for 2006.

Episode 11's music was chosen by Mrs. Zeke herself and comes courtesy of Eight Days Gone and Fin (aka Plumbline).

What is that Thing?

You might have noticed the new icon above my Blogger profile and wondered what it's for. Clicking on the icon will take you to One For Truth's new Feedburner RSS feed. In short, RSS feeds allow me to syndicate this blog so that rather than coming here to see if there's new content, you can have it pushed to you via a RSS reader. For Firefox users (and if you're using Internet Explorer, I would strongly encourage you to switch to Firefox), check out the Sage add-in that integrates an RSS reader into the browser.

Adding this capability to your own blog is pretty straightforward. Feedburner has instructions for you here. Essentially, you just follow a few simple instructions and paste some code into your Blogger template. Enjoy!

Thank God for Idealism--But Watch Your Ass

As believers, we are called to be practical idealists ("wise as serpents... gentle as doves"). Too often though, we forget about the idealist part. And I say that this is as true of me as it is of anyone.

So when I opened the paper this morning (something I rarely do; papers are so old school) and read about 16 year-old Farris Hassan flying by himself to Iraq having told almost no one, motivated by a desire to make a personal difference in the lives of the people there, I was stoked. Here was a young kid who was not only an idealist, but who was driven to act. Remember action, brothers and sisters? You might have read about it in church history somewhere.

Anyway, so this young man struck out on his own to Baghdad to pursue his passion to contribute personally to the new Iraq (and note that I'm not mentioning whether his motivations were for "peace" ala the left or "freedom" ala the right, because they aren't relevant here). Here's what was driving Farris, in his own words:
Life is not about money, fame, or power. Life is about combating the forces of evil in the world, promoting justice, helping the misfortunate, and improving the welfare of our fellow man. Progress requires that we commit ourselves to such goals. We are not here on Earth to hedonistically pleasure ourselves, but to serve each other and the creator. What deed is greater than sacrificing one's luxuries for the benefit of those less blessed?
Farris does not profess any particular faith, but I wonder if he will be one of those who says to Christ on Judgment Day, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?" (Matt 25)

So thanks for your idealism, Farris. Temper it just a little with some wisdom and judgment and you will be a long-standing force to be reckoned with.

Welcome to the Family, Oliver

Every couple of years or so, Missy starts lobbying for a new pet. And usually, my protests of "No new pets in the house!" hold sway for a couple of months until somehow I look up and find that we have a new pet on the way. This is how it was until I came down to Arizona for the holidays to find that my mom was giving Missy a puppy for Christmas. That's him in the picture, a unique blend of chocolate Lab and brindle Bull Mastiff. His mom's the Lab, but he takes after his dad.

So welcome, Oliver. I was against you, and I know as well as anyone that now comes the drama, destroyed clothing and furniture, vet bills, more complication into our already hectic lives, and a lot of happy memories.

And if my family is reading, this time I mean it--no new pets.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Barna: Top Religious Trends of 2005

The Barna Group recently published its Top Religious Trends of 2005 report, highlighting what they consider the top four trends relevant to churches:

1. Local churches are neglecting (or in the Group's words, "essentially ignoring") three "critical spiritual dimensions": ministry to children, ministry to families, and prayer.

2. Congregations are rapidly incorporating new technologies into their activities such as large projection screens (almost two thirds of Protestant churches, the web (57%), and email (56%). Given the Pew report that I just blogged on that shows that 67% of Americans are online, the church is clearly following rather than leading in this area. What a surprise.

3. Black congregations are slowly dying. Also not a surprise, but sad to hear.

4. A new generation of leaders (Rick Warren, T.D. Jakes) are replacing the previous generation (Billy Graham, Robert Schuller, Jerry Falwell, etc.).

More compelling are the four trends the Group identified that are "pertaining to the faith of individuals":

1. "The energizing of evangelicals." While evangelicals make up just 7% of the adult population, they receive a disproportionate amount of public attention. Barna cites the focus on evangelicals in the 2004 election as an example of this.

2. Rising Biblical illiteracy. Also not a surprise.

3. The Revolutionaries. Barna's most recent book is all about this phenomenon, and I've blogged on it here and here.

4. Innovation in expressions of faith by the younger generations. Money quote: "[W]ithin the next five years young adults will boldly introduce a blizzard of unique expressions of faith that will cause heightened tension with the older generations of believers." I don't think you need to wait five years for that, George. It's already happening.

Barna's taking it straight on the chin from a lot of people in the IC and as has been said elsewhere, I "hope he has a great retirement plan." The assault against George looks to me like nothing more than a shooting of the messenger, because the change train is rolling and it isn't looking for a conductor to make it happen. At most, Barna will simply provide some clarity and permission for believers who are already headed out of the IC but can't find their voice as to why they are compelled to do so.

Americans Online

The Pew Charitable Trusts have just published How Women and Men Use the Internet, a survey of internet use among American men and women. Among the findings are that slightly more women are online than men, especially younger women. Fully 86 percent of women 18-29 are online, a very impressive statistic and higher than I would have guessed. Another interesting finding is that use of the internet by black women is "surging," and is significantly outpacing the use of the internet by black men.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What Does Copyright Have to do With Jesus?

In my latest podcast, I spent a fair amount of time venting about the RIAA and their ruinous efforts to expand their control over artists and audiences through copyright extention and digital "rights" "management." I have a surprising amount of energy on this topic, but I suppose it's because even though I'm not a publishing musician I do follow technology developments and I have enough of an understanding of what's at stake to realize that people of faith should be concerned about this. Maybe deeply concerned.

Here's a few reasons why I think this issue is so relevant:
  1. Our personal ability to share our faith and communicate with one another is greatly served by both established technologies like the web and email as well as new tools and file distribution methods like MP3 players, podcasting, RSS feeds, peer-to-peer file sharing protocols like Bittorrent, Voice Over IP (VOIP), instant messaging, and the like. Corporate and governmental efforts to control or eliminate these tools hangs like a dark cloud over the industry.
  2. The ability of believers in persecuted areas to communicate with themselves and the outside world depends on these tools as well, and they are counting on us to stand up for their rights when they cannot. Neither the U.S. government nor multinational corporations are terribly concerned about protecting the rights of citizens of oppressive regimes, especially when there's profit on the line. And I'm talking about you, Yahoo.
  3. Open standards and protocols, along with open software, are changing the world. The internet, email, VOIP, cell phones, podcasts, all these are possible because of open standards and protocols. Almost universally, open standards are resisted by corporations precisely because they cannot be controlled and eliminate competitive advantages that depend on closed systems.
  4. The internet and VOIP are making it easier and easier to live lives that are more flexible and independent, allowing for more face time with our families and more time to dedicate to giving our gifts. Of course they can be abused, but that isn't the point. The point is that we are being increasingly freed from the need to commute to our desks and stay there.
  5. It used to be that technology made economies of scale more possible; now a corner has been turned and the thresholds for economies of scale are lowering. Ideally, they will lower to the point where we can return, of sorts, to a craftsman economy where we can produce much of what we need at or near home and sell our excess locally or even globally. This will mean that we can increase our rate of migration away from the cities that are a source of so much crime, congestion and pollution. And that means even more time with our families and more freedom to give our gifts.
Broadly speaking, you and I have interests that conflict with corporations who currently control the conversation about content and technological innovation. For instance, corporations have put a chill on the development of new technologies that could be used to infringe upon copyrights. Imagine being sued for building a tape recorder because somebody used it to copy a Madonna CD. This is where we're headed if the RIAA and MPAA have their way. Ultimately, it will mean that devices that could enrich our lives will never be made.

Next year, I plan on stepping up my own awareness of this issue and passing along what I've learned. I also plan to financially support groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Creative Commons. They are small potatoes compared to the massive lobbying muscle of industry groups, but they're the guys in the white hats and that still counts for something.

It just isn't possible to do this topic justice in a single blog post, but I'll keep pressing on and start dealing with this in smaller bites in detail. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Godscrum: Episode 10 is Live

Episode 10 is live, and 2005 is coming to a close. Is Zeke a prophet? Find out. Also, on the heels of my discovery of Magnatune I've kicked the RIAA habit and will be sharing only open music on this podcast. This week's featured artist is Norine Braun, who I blogged about earlier this week. Enjoy.

Monday, December 26, 2005

On the iPod: Now and Zen, by Norine Braun

I mentioned in my last post the innovative distribution methods of Magnatune and hinted that I found the site offered some excellent music. Witness Norine Braun, whose album Now and Zen I sampled in its entireity.

While I've written music reviews before, I confess that music criticism doesn't come easily to me. So I'll keep my comments brief, and offer up the basic biographical details along with my first impressions, and simply suggest you go give it a listen yourself.

Norine Braun is the Vancouver-based "Canadian Queen of Eclectic Pop," and receives airplay on independent stations around the world. Of this I'm not surprised; her music is very high quality with a certifiable offbeat indy cred. She is her own artist, and while she clearly has diverse influences, none of her work on this album feels derivative.

If you are fond of jazz, groovy trance music, or the female voice, hop over to Magnatune and give her a listen. I hope you like it.

This Man Wants to Liberate Your iPod

I hate the RIAA and what they are doing to the musical arts in this country. Of course, they are but one manifestation of the disturbing trend away from personal rights and towards corporate and govermental influence over our lives and our art. Not to turn this into a history lesson, but the intent of copyright law was to expand the amount of content in the public domain, not restrict it. The thinking of the lawmakers in these matters (extending back as early as 1709 in England) was that by protecting the rights of content creators for a limited, defined time more content would be created and thus, at the end of the protected period, would end up in the public domain.

Somehow, in ways that I'm not qualified to speculate on, we ended up from those simple, high principals to the RIAA and MPAA, music's and film's inanimate versions of Boss Hogg. Avaricious, petulant, demanding and suit-happy, serving the narrow interests of their industries, they buy off politicians to pass laws that enrich their member corporations while insulting the very intent of copyright law.

To regain our lost freedoms, we could either invest ourselves in political change--not my cup of tea--or decide to just not play the game by their rules. Innovations in technology are finally making this possible; the tools of the trade of recording and distribution are in the hands of the common man, and the future belongs to the artists and distributors who master these technologies and bypass the rudding RIAA and their outrageous tolls.

Enter John Buckman, founder of Magnatune. John is a leader in the movement to provide new channels from artists to audiences, channels that respect both content creators and content consumers. "All music should be shareware," proclaims the Magnatune site. Among the innovations in music distribution and rights management in Magnatune:
  • All content is available in a variety of non-DRMed (Digital Rights Management) formats, meaning that there is no copy protection on the music
  • Unlike with other services, customers can download CD-quality files
  • Customers have the right to distribute full copies of what they buy to up to three other people and create unlimited copies for their own use
  • Top artists get $.20 on the dollar from CD sales; Magnatune artists get 50% of the revenue
  • Music can be purchased for immediate download or on CD, and if you purchase a CD you can still download the music immediately (very cool)
  • The license allows sampling, derivative works, unrestricted non-commercial podcasting use and very generous commercial podcasting use
The discovery of Magnatune has led me to decide to discontinue the reproduction of RIAA-protected music on Godscrum. Instead, I will promote the music of artists that are distributing their music under the Creative Commons license rather than the "all rights reserved" licenses from the RIAA. In doing so, I hope to encourage the efforts both of the artists and distributors like John Buckman and Magnatune.

Time will tell the outcome of this rather epic struggle. In the meantime, there is some damn good music on Magnatune, which I will be proud to feature here and on Godscrum. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Champ was Missy's Christmas gift in 1998, and he'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

He'd also like to point out that worrying is optional next year, and encourages everyone to have someone scratch your belly and take a nap when things seem troublesome.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Xmas is not an Insult

We Christians can be a touchy lot, but let's take care not to be offended when someone refers to Christmas as "Xmas." This abbreviation for Christmas has a long heritage and is rooted in homage to Christ (whose honorific "X" is an abbreviation for Kristos in Greek). See the Wikipedia article for more information.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Thanks, Grasty!

Courtesy of Amazon, Grasty's Santa Blogger gift arrived yesterday. A real live book, which I rarely buy these days (being an audiobook nut) but a tight read at only 114 pages. Each of the three sections (relating, of course, instances of "extraordinary popular delusions") are just 10-50 pages long.

So thanks Grasty, I'll be enjoying this one over the Christmas break. Hope you have a great one yourself, my friend.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Jennifer's Back... Sort Of

I love Jennifer Knapp. Her albums from the late '90's to just a few years ago are full of beauty and power, honesty and passion. She never received the respect she deserved; Mrs. Zeke and I saw her at Spirit West Coast in Monterey the summer of 2001, and the kids in the audience showed total disrespect for her while they waited for the headline act. It was disgraceful.

And then she disappeared, and we've been left for years with nothing more than rumors about what has happened to her. Now Gotee Records, which has been carrying her as an artist for years while she's been missing in action, is releasing a live album based on recordings that were made in 2001 (Hat tip to Dorsey for bringing this to my attention). If you read the "updated biography" on Gotee's website, it mentions no new biographical information, nothing to indicate what became of this extraordinary artist. We're not even assured that Jennifer participated at all in the production of the album, or that she even approved it.

Jennifer, where are you? What happened?

Has the CCM industry burned out another human being? Has she, like many in our blog circles, abandonded Churchianity and is living off the evangelical ranch?

No answers, just more product to consume. I'll pass, thanks.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Iron Mule Fellowship

I met this evening with Josh from Stupid Church People for a few beers at The Iron Mule in Orange County, where the patrons smoked openly, the beer selection was excellent, the bathroom was foul, and some dude kept leaning on me no matter how many times I moved my barstool.

That aside, I spent quality time with a friend getting to know him better and talking about God and love. Could we have done something similar over coffee at Coco's? Probably. But it wouldn't have been the same.

Zeke (and my Stupid Church Friends) on Outchurched

A few weeks ago, I joined Steve & Josh from Stupid Church People for a session jam with my friends at Outchurched (The One True Reverend Dan Tripp, Charles Grasty, and McKormick Astley). Rev. Dan finally squeezed in some production time, and here it is for your enjoyment.

The theme of the podcast is, after all the bitching about the problems, then what? This is the $64,000 question after all. Even Brian McLaren said in a recent interview that not being able to answer that question is one of his greatest fears.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Godscrum: Episode 9 is Live!

Yes, Episode 9 is up. This is the Christmas 2005 edition of Godscrum, where I give some love presents to the people closest to me. Also featured in this podcast is the debut of a new, real-live microphone, and my best efforts at a makeshift pop filter. I'm really trying to upgrade the quality over here at the scrum, folks.

The Rhythm Section Must Not Be Resisted

What is it about vocalists that they can't be bothered to follow the rhythm section? Being in a band in the past has primed me to notice these things, and I can just about be assured that at any given worship service, the vocalists will start doing their own thing with regard to meter.

Is it that vocalists just stop listening to the rhythm section? Or is it that they develop their own collective opinion about what the meter should be, and decide to set it themselves? Whatever the source of this disobedience to the proper order of a musical combo, it makes me want to run up to the stage and shout, "OBEY THE DRUMMER, DAMMIT!" That's what he's there for. That's his job. Used to drive me nuts when I was playing bass, especially when the poor drummer started trying to strike a compromise, which just threw me off. My thinking was, if they start drifting we need to pump it up. Drag them back into unity, as it were. But today, at church, I heard it all over again. Is this one of the reasons I am struggling with church, maybe? Have I lost my patience with rebellion against meter? Meh. Maybe. But listen, no matter what role you might play in a musical arrangement, the rhythm section must not be resisted.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Big Deal

So I found out that a six million dollar project that I've been working on for a year and a half was approved today. After three years of struggle in this job I'm in, I've generated one of the largest deals in my industry, and the largest deal of its kind in a key customer segment. Of course, being the worry wart that I am I moved quickly on from elation to concern with how I will pull this substantial project together. Lots of details to handle. And, of course, until the keys are handed over and the checks cashed, no deal is truly final... but give me a moment here.

I thought I'd take some time to reflect on the impact of what is certainly, bar none, the highest professional achievement of my life. Yes, it does feel satisfying. Yes, it is directly the result of work that I have been doing for over 18 months and of initiatives and new partnerships that I formed. This deal isn't an accident, and no one person is more responsible for it coming together than I am. And that feels pretty cool. And if all goes well (meaning I priced it properly and we manage costs properly) then the financial windfall will be gratifying too.

I point all these things out not to pat myself on the back. Honestly. I point them out because now, from the perspective of victory, I can say with all sincerity "Big Deal." Big deal. This is commerce. This nice project will turn to dust one day. And will the time and energy I invested in this really be worth it?

I can't say. But paychecks are what keeps my family in shelter and clothing, so I'm grateful for God's provision. And I feel a little more at peace, and a little more hopeful about the future, and more aware than ever before that these things are a big deal to me.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

So you're an artist. And you like dogs. And you want to make some money. Then you go to CafePress, you upload your artwork, and you start selling these absolutely brilliant t-shirts and posters. Somebody give this guy a medal.

I find this really inspiring. And I'm thrilled to see more and more flexible ways for people to release their creativity and build fascinating new business models. Kudos to this artist and CafePress. I dig it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Santablogger Roundup

Well, all the Santa Bloggers have completed their assignments, and here's the wrapup:

I gave Ninjanun a t-shirt with her cat on it
The One True Reverend Dan Tripp gave Charles Grasty a subscription to The Door
Grasty gave me a copy of The Madness of Crowds
Craig Bob gave Steve Chastain an ordination as a priest in the Beer Church
Dorsey gave Sofyst a gift certificate for the Ann Coulter HQ Store
Sofyst gave Craig Bob a keg of Shiner Bock (from Texas, of course)
Ninjanun gave Dorsey a book about farts (yes, seriously)
Steve Chastain gave Rev. Dan a habitat for his new hamster

Looking forward to hearing how everyone likes their new gifts, though the Nun has already told me that she's not into wearing a t-shirt with a picture of her cat on it. Swing and a miss, that one.

Next year I'll put out an open invitation and allow anyone who's interested to sign up.

Because Knowledge is Power... this. No comment, it speaks for itself.

And yeah, I guess my hiatus is pretty meaningless.

Monday, December 12, 2005

100 Posts

Welcome to the 100th post of this blog, and thanks for sticking around so long. And now, back to my hiatus. Peace.

Catching Up on the Scrum

One more quick note: I've published Godscrum Episodes 6, 7, and 8 during my hiatus so far. And I renew my offer to open the forum up to others.

Courtesy of Google Quote of the Day

Okay, so I interrupt my blogging hiatus again to share this quote from George Bernard Shaw:
People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them.
Do with it what you will.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas... for Ninjanun!

I'm violating my blogging hiatus because I am a participant in a "Santa Blogger" circle (including Out of Fellowship, Not My Will, Outchurched, Steve from Stupid Church People, Charles Grasty, Sofyst, and Ninjanun) who have all received assignments to select a gift under $25 for their secret Santa blogger. The rules of the game are:

1. Read the blog of the person you're to choose a gift for
2. Select a gift $25 or under for that person that you think best suits them based upon what you've learned of them by reading their blog (you will not be buying and shipping the gift; you're just picking it out)
3. By Wednesday, December 14th, post a picture of the gift and write a post about why you chose that gift and send an email to your recipient with a link back to your blog
4. By Christmas Eve, December 24th, buy the gift that was chosen for you and write a post about it, and send a link via email back to the person who chose the gift. Ideally, include a picture of the gift. This post will be your thank-you note.

This morning, I wrote down the names of the participants on scraps of paper, folded them, and put them in a measuring cup. Mother Zeke, my mom, pulled out one name at a time, and that name was assigned one by one to the bloggers on the list.

I was pleased when she drew Ninjanun for my assignment, because she not only hosts one of my favorite blogs, but she and her husband the Pete are becoming fast online friends. It's not unusual these days for the Nun and I to have looping, hilarious, and occasionally profound IM conversations deep into the night, and I've added her and the Pete to those lists of people whom I must meet in person before I split this planet.

To be a faithful Santa Blogger you need to be thoroughly acquainted with your giftee's blog, so I took some downtime today to kick my feet up and dig into the Nun's site. She's been at it a year longer than I have, and it shows.

You never know quite what you're going to get from the Nun, but it will end up being a little bit of everything: family life, marriage, faith, humor, home & garden, travel, politics, music and more. She invests a lot more soul and character into blogging than most of us lazier louts, and the more I read the more I dug this woman. She is one of a kind. And I think it's killer how much she loves the Pete (welcome to the lucky men club, Pete; I'm a charter member courtesy of Mrs. Zeke).

So, what to get the Nun? There's her love of home renovation and gardening... but I've learned it's bad form to buy people things for their homes unless you know exactly what they want. I extended that to the Nun's garden; too risky to guess what kind of seedlings that she might want, and garden tools are too pedestrian for gifts.

Courtesy of her blog we know she has an affinity for the J. Crew catalog, but the $25 limit doesn't fit her wish list. In fact, a $25 limit doesn't leave room for many gifts these days. Books and music are obvious choices, but a bit too generic for the Nun, I think. Something more personal and thoughtful are more the Nun's speed.

Truthfully, settling on a gift idea for my blogging friend wasn't difficult. I did what all smart guys should do: go for the pet. And what a pet Nun and the Pete have in Flip-Flop the tabby cat. So my first choice was a personalized frame featuring Flip-Flop with his "F'in Metal" appellation and a Christmas 2005 commemoration (my rendering to the left). Two problems: the frame sells for almost $30, which breaks the budget, and I feel fairly confident that the Nun would never choose that bland frame. So back to the drawing board.

Still enamored with the Flip-Flop/personalized gift choice, Plan B became a t-shirt for the Nun to wear:

Assuming the nice folks at ArtApart can get that image centered and between the lines of text (that font is Earthquake, and we won't make any insensitive comments about how fitting that is for the Flipster), we have a winner at $24.11 for the jersey version (which felt more Nun-like to me).

So Merry Christmas, Ninjanun. I hope this one is your best ever.