Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What I Said at the Funeral

Judi's grandmother passed away last week, and the family asked me to perform the funeral.  Helen was an amazing lady.  Two tidbits that stood out from her obituary:  she and her husband were married for 68 years at the time of his death, and over the past several decades she'd spent over 17 THOUSAND hours volunteering at the local hospital.

Quick math tangent:  17,870 hours, divided by 24 hours a day, makes over 744 days.  If you went into a hospital, and volunteered every single minute of every day (no sleep, meals, or bathroom breaks) it would take you over two years to do that.  If you tried to volunteer 17,870 hours by working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, it would take you almost a decade.  That's craziness.  And that doesn't count all of the cakes and blankets she made (at home, on her own time) for the hospital staff and patients.

The family asked me to perform the funeral, which was a first for me.  I've done a LOT of weddings, but this was my first funeral.  I spoke from the book of Job, chapter 7, where Job says that "life is a breath and our days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle."  Job's a tricky book to quote, because so much of it is stated by the Job and his friends but then refuted by God.

'loom' photo (c) 2009, Theyoungones1994 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I've seen a weaver's shuttle exactly once.  It was a lady over in Southeast Asia, weaving a silk tapestry.  For the most part, you couldn't really even see the shuttle because it moved so quickly.  Just a flash, and it was gone.  But then it came back for another round; another line of thread laid down, and another, and another.  Our lives pass so quickly as a series of moments that we can never get back.  But each moment is the basis for the next, and the one after that, and the one after that.  Over time, we see this succession of moments not as a pile of individual threads but as a solid fabric:  the tapestry of our life.

I spent the rest of the time talking about Helen's tapestry.  The three dominant colors in hers were generosity, service, and faith.  What will yours be?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Porn and Seat Belts

Imagine if buckling your seat belt made your car go faster.    Hold onto that idea, we'll come back to it. 

'Click it or ticket' photo (c) 2011, AlamosaCounty PublicHealth - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I'm fairly sure this is the worst thing I've read in a long time. Summary:  Researchers want to study porn's impact on guy's brains, but they can't do any research because they don't have a control group.  They can't find any guys who haven't seen porn.

Think about that. 

If you're in the midst of a battle with pornography, this post isn't really for you.  Do the stuff I talk about here, but it's just a start.  I recommend reading this, and then talk to somebody.  I'll listen to you if nobody else will.

But if you're a guy who doesn't struggle with pornography, let me give you two easy steps to make sure you don't accidentally start.  Here's the best part:  they'll make everything about your internet experience better.  FAR better.

First, install (free) ad-blocking software.  

I use Adblock for Chrome.  Do you use Firefox?  Click here.  Safari?  Click here.  Internet Explorer?  Click here.  There are folks that argue against ad-blockers, because so many sites are supported by ad-based content.  Ignore these people.  I know from my own experience and the experience of MANY guys that I've talked to that explicit banner advertisements can be a gateway into temptation.  Close that gate up.

Here's the best part:  even if you never get served questionable ads, the internet is a better experience with an ad-blocker.  You don't get crazy popups, you don't get loud sounds that load in some other tab, and you can actually focus on whatever it is you're trying to read.  Plus, your webpages will load far faster, because they're not pulling down tons of graphical ads.  Getting an ad-blocker is like putting on a seat-belt, but it drastically increases the relative speed of your internet connection.

Second, start using OpenDNS (free).

If you're reading this blog, you probably live around me, which means you're probably on Time Warner Cable or Insight.  These companies use their own DNS services, which are generally sub-par, ad-driven, and SLOW.  I won't fully explain what DNS is (click here for a good explanation) but for now, think of it like an address book.  When you say "I want to go to Google," DNS is the one that actually routes you to that website.

A slow DNS service makes web addresses resolve slowly.  Getting a better one lets your computer "find" websites faster.  It won't make a difference in how quickly the actual content of the website gets downloaded to your computer, but it helps the process get started faster.

Once you're using OpenDNS, though, you can perform some additional magic here.  You can set filtering levels so that certain types of websites are routed around.  The DNS filter simply won't go there.  This is a screenshot from my settings:

This is better than a software filter for two reasons.  First, it applies to all devices (think tablets), not just ones that have the software installed.  Second, it doesn't slow down your computer.  Instead, it speeds it up!  To set up OpenDNS on your home router, click here.

If you're thinking "I don't need this stuff, I don't ever look at porn" then you're missing the point.  These two things will give you a better internet experience even if you've never once been tempted.  It's not an 8-foot fortress wall to keep the bad stuff away... it's more like a guardrail.  But guardrails aren't a bad thing.  And they don't get in your way.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Reply for Dan

'Writing is My Hobby' photo (c) 2009, Charles J Danoff - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Hobby?  Not really.  But Dan made Wylio.com, which is cool.

I had dinner last night with my college roommate/best man and his wife.  Over the course of the evening's conversation, he asked me how my quest to write 52 blog posts this year is going.  I started to answer, got distracted (me?  imagine!) and never got around to answering the question.

The answer is that it's not going well, because the vast majority of what I write I never publish.  Almost everything on this blog in the past 3 years (admittedly, not that much) is something I wrote in 5 minutes and published immediately.  Anything that takes longer never gets published.  Some of that is distraction (me?  distracted?) but mostly it's that the more I look at something I write, the more problems I find with it.

Right now I'm functioning more as an editor than a writer.  It hasn't always been this way, but we are indeed shaped by our work.  The longer I look at something I write, the more work that I think it needs before it's worth sharing.  This is a pretty drastic change from earlier in my life, where I was much more careless with my words.

The only way (thus far) I've successfully broken the cycle is to publish without thinking too much about it.  So that's what I'm going to try for a while.  I'll start by going back through the hundreds of "draft" blog posts I have on Blogger, and picking a few to publish.

We'll see how it goes.

Three down, 49 to go.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I See Men Like Trees

The Vineyard is reading through the New Testament this year, which is less work than you might expect.  There are 260 chapters in the New Testament and 52 weeks in the year.  That works out to exactly 5 chapters a week, or one chapter a day Monday through Friday.  You even have the weekends off!  You can find the reading plan here.

This year I've been trying something new:  listening to the Bible instead of reading it.  Faith comes by hearing, after all.  I just open up YouVersion on my smart device of choice and play a professional recording of the day's passage (click here for more info).

It's been an interesting experience to listen instead of read.  I'm not much for audiobooks; I can read FAR faster than someone else can talk, so audiobooks are always too "slow" to be really mentally stimulating.  But this has been different.  My mind still moves at its normal speed, but the "slowness" of the audio recording has the interesting effect of drawing me back to passages that I race past.  I'm able to think about the words in a different way than I would if I were just reading through.

Today's chapter was Mark 8.  Jesus has just finished giving the disciples a hard time about their lack of faith, pointing out that he'd just done a pair of miracles where he'd produced (literally) tons of food, but they still doubted him.  "They" (the disciples?  The crowd?) bring Jesus a blind man and ask Jesus to heal him.  Jesus begins by spitting in the man's eyes, which is a more impressive feat than it seems.  How confident are you that you could walk up to another person and spit directly into their eyes?

Regardless, Jesus spits on the man's eyes and... it doesn't take.  The text says that the man regains his sight, but when he looks around he doesn't recognize anything.  The men he sees "look like trees walking around."  Obvious questions include:  why does the text say he regains his sight if what he sees doesn't make sense to him?  How does he know what trees look like, to compare people to trees?  And, most importantly, what the heck just happened?

On the surface, it looks like Jesus tried to heal the man, whiffed, and then got it right on the second try.  Why?  Jesus seems to do some sort of calibration, but he's never had to do that in his other miracles.  What's different about this one?  What would have happened if the man had left halfway through the miracle?

I've read and heard a lot of different thoughts on this, and some of them are extremely compelling.  But I wonder how many times I've missed the miraculous work of God in my life because it happened over a period of time, instead of instantly.  This guy goes to see Jesus unable to see, and leaves able to see.  That's miraculous.  But what about the changes that happen over the space of a week?  A month?  A season?  Are they any less miraculous?

Don't despise the small beginning.