We’re excited to share Prime Air - something the team has been working on in our next generation R&D lab. The goal of this new delivery system is to get pack…
Earlier this evening on 60 Minutes (video link), Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled Amazon Prime Air, a prototype delivery system fueled by electric octocopters with a 30 minute delivery guarantee and a ten mile radius.
The reality here is that this isn’t just a delivery paradigm for Amazon, but for the entire world of commerce. Imagine:
Starbucks delivering coffee to your office in 8 minutes
Dominos deliveries in 17 minutes at your doorstep
Your dry cleaning in a safe container on your doorstep every Tuesday at 4:10 PM
The iPhone you are getting for repair from Apple in 45 minutes - and you send the phone back
All your postal mail replaced by octocopters
Milk delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays straight from the farm
The sky is the limit. Bezos says we watched a test flight in this video and that its overly optimistic to think it’ll be running in 2015.
A lot has been written online about Samsung potentially abandoning Android for their own platform. Android Police did a good job of approaching this in April, seemingly saying there’s no way. As someone with the not-so-unique position of selling phones, I have my own perspective.
From my vantage point in Nowheresville, America, customers walk into cell phone marketplaces with an agenda. 80% of my interactions are with individuals who already know what they want and how they want it. Questions are normally about what they have already chosen. I look forward to situations that stray from the norm, but I’m used to this conversation:
bradmeyerlive: Do you know what you’re looking for today?
Customer A: An iPhone Customer B: A Galaxy phone
The iPhone is a simple question to answer: which of the three models and which color. Samsung, on the other hand, opens up a whole different discussion. As of November 2013, that could involve the Galaxy S3 Mini, Galaxy S4, Galaxy S4 Active, Galaxy S4 Zoom, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy Note 3, or Galaxy Mega. Yes, that’s seven models.
Once Galaxy Phone X has been chosen, we begin the account setup. With Samsung’s current “it” phone, the Note 3, the device setup process I work through with the customer includes setting the date and time, signing into/up for a Samsung account, viewing a screen that highlights device features, then entering the home screen. This home screen and its adjacent other screens includes access to Samsung’s app store, Samsung’s music and video services, a tutorial for using Touchwiz features, and more.
Notice at no point in all this has the word “Google” come up. You know, the behemoth company that built Android, the platform that runs the phone? Unless I tell the customer they have an Android phone, they may not necessarily know its the case. In fact, Twitter user KevDoy made a chart showing Samsung’s ongoing warchest of apps they’ve created as alternatives to Google’s own apps that run on the same phone.
What we have here appears to be a pathway to separating from Android, far beyond what Amazon has done with the Kindle. While the Kindle has its own app store, that isn’t its primary function. Samsung, on the other hand, has introduced its own hardware just for its own devices.
The above chart has a series of what some may deem to be quality app alternatives to most of Google’s services. Well, all but one issue: the Play Store.
Google’s Play Store is a behemoth system offering music, books, television shows, and of course, mobile apps. As of July, Google says they have over one million apps available in this marketplace (the same number as Apple said they have in their App Store as of October). Samsung, on the other hand, has a puny store for which it hasn’t said how many apps exist, only that it has ten million downloads since it launched in 2009. That’s impressive, until you know that Google Play crossed 25 billion in September 2012.
The issue of Google Play is truthfully Google’s queen on a chess board that seems to have been created with Samsung. Silently, they seem to be trying to deal with Samsung “forking” Android, including Android 4.4 having a launcher called “the Google Experience” that just might be hard to avoid even on Samsung devices. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Google is worried about Samsung basically owning their platform, and rightfully so.
Samsung has stated that they have no desire to leave. Yet, their actions like the above maneuvers and working with Intel on Tizen OS say otherwise. My prediction is that 2014 will be the year that Samsung begins to make Samsung Apps a default application store on their devices. Users will still be able to find Google Play, but it’ll be like dial-up users in the 1990s on America Online having no idea that there’s a big internet beyond AOL’s walled garden.
Then there’s the issue of Search, YouTube, and Maps, Google’s other killer services. There’s no denying that Samsung needs these services, but like Apple yesteryear, they could feasibly license access to this content.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. And neither is a platform like Android.
Tonight, I had the privilege of hearing my favorite singer-songwriter Derek Webb in concert, supporting his new concept album, CTRL. Webb’s album seeks to sort out the tenuous relationship between technology and culture. Under his own admission, he’s addicted to devices, as am I. He also sees trouble with this coming - somewhat prophetically. After wrestling with this relationship for nine songs, Webb declares in the final track “Around Every Corner” that:
hard as it may be to someday resist the will of a hardwired explorer I hereby commit myself to stop looking around every corner
Let me be clear: I’m as technologically linked as anyone else. One need only look at my about.me profile to see this is true. In fact, as a person who sells mobile phones, my life is built on selling technology. Meanwhile…I’m concerned.
These handheld devices and various other screens are seemingly ubiquitous. We can spend more of our lives staring at pixelated images than real life and not realize its odd. We can gasp at the beauty of an image of autumn and never go touch the leaves on the grass. We can listen to music about love songs…but never feel love. Young men can lust after human beings on a computer screen, but never feel the power of an intimate relationship without selfishness.
Perhaps what scared me most was a moment at work this past week. An individual came into my store having had her mobile phone take a swim in the toilet. She was taking it just fine, but her six year old daughter was not. After a few minutes of playing on a nearby tablet computer, she walked to her mother and had this interaction:
Daughter: Is the phone fixed yet?
Mother: No, honey. It can’t be fixed. We’ll get a new one in a few days.
The daughter was crushed. She picked up the smartphone and suddenly began to tear up. I saw saline drops of sorrow begin to stream down her cheeks as she clenched the phone and squeezed it up to her neckline like a kitten that has died. She looked as if she had lost her best friend - and it was her mother’s cellular phone.
This moment of emotion is a trifle difficult to observe. Her mother acknowledged that she’s a bit overly attached to technology, but I wonder if its just an overly expressive girl demonstrating what many of us feel. There’s a drawing to be connected that is crushing to ignore. Rock band Anberlin acknowledges the matter with a game they play (which they got from Reddit) in this image.
Call this all an overreaction but I can feel a machine gaining steam that has accelerated tremendously over the past 15 years. Picture how much technology has overtaken life over the past 15 years…then double it. Ask yourself, given this rate of change, what life will look like in 2027.
We must be part of the culture, but we must also be human. Be present. And be free.
How American Healthcare Works Right Now & Why It Doesn't Work
Over the last few weeks, healthcare has been a hotter topic than usual thanks to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court making the Affordable Care Act (popularly/mockingly referred to as “Obamacare”). Click the video to see President Obama’s summary.
Many of my friends, family members, and colleagues have been asking me what I think about it. My response has been what it usually is with political topics:
I’m not smart enough to know how to fix healthcare.
Most are a bit baffled at my humble response, but I think its a healthy answer. I’m no expert on this subject. However, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time researching, pondering, and weighing both sides as evenly as possible. I’d like to help those of you who, like me, aren’t smart enough to know how to fix things,
For those of you who are smart enough to lecture others about how to fix things (and tell others), this isn’t the blog for you.
Today, there are five primary entities that contribute to the healthcare system. The horribly designed graphic below displays how the money flows from one party to the next.
As individuals visit doctors, hospitals, and care physicians, assuming we are covered by medical insurance, the flow process begins.
Once the potentially expensive care is completed by the (typically) non-profit provider, a prescription or treatment is passed forward. If this is via drugs, a for-profit entity (publicly traded on Wall Street demanding high profits) sells a drug through another for-profit entity at a pharmacy (who is also publicly traded and must collect a profit). Other medical equipment usually follows a similar flow with everyone along the way collecting a profit.
The drug company and/or the physician pass their costs onto an insurance company who is also a for-profit entity that is typically also publicly traded and must turn a profit. Alternatively, these costs go to Medicare, Medicaid, or other government entities for the aged, disabled, or underemployed. Remember, these are constantly fighting funding issues of their own.
In the case of an insurance company, we have an entity that is under considerable pressure to turn a profit, but is under more pressure from its best friend to keep costs very, very low. That best friend is an employer for an active employee or a retiree who is collecting a pension for service (which is a massive pool of individuals thanks to the Baby Boom retirees).
The employer may or may not be a for-profit organization, but certainly can’t afford to be paying a bunch more money for benefits to the worker with raising prices or cutting costs. To keep the books in the black, keep the shareholders happy, or keep the business afloat, they pass the increased cost onto the last stop in the process: you.
At the end of the process, someone has to absorb the rising cost of all these entities. That person is you.
Keep in mind as well that thirty million Americans are not insured at all (for various reasons). For these individuals, the original costs are not filtered through insurers or Medicare: they are passed 100% to the end-user.
This is the reason why there’s such a hot debate in Washington, diners, and dinner tables: somehow, these rising costs have to be covered by someone. Everyone wants the cost to be covered by someone. Herein lies the debate: should this be handled by the government, employers, states, individuals, etc.
I don’t know the answer to this, but if you paid close attention, there’s a common theme in all this: profit. Most entities in the flow is trying to collect a profit. This system is doomed to fail as it is now not because someone has to foot the bill. Rather,
the system right now is doomed to fail because at nearly every step in the process, there is greed.
I really don’t know what system can be implemented to fix this that will ever work if the people involved are mainly looking to profit. Healthcare, at its root, must be rooted in good will, servant hood, and care for others. Any decently designed system will work if greed is removed.
As you hear this debate rage on (because I promise it will), and as you hear solutions from various entities, listen as I have with a filter. Ask yourself, “will greed still poison this system.” If so, be leery of hope in the system.
As for my opinion, I don’t have much of one other than that the human heart being cured of its greed is the solution.
My wife and I decided to visit the midnight showing of The Hunger Games, both knowing basically nothing of the books or story. Those who have read the books and bought the lunchboxes, give this pedestrian grace as I will analyze this piece of film.
For those who are in the dark as much as we were, Hunger Games is a story of post-apocolyptic world where a nation celebrates an important war victory generations ago with a unique holiday. Each year, a male and female ages 12-18 are randomly selected from 12 districts to compete in a nationally televised reality show. Set in a secluded forest and televised in a Truman Show-esque wooded arena, the children compete in a multi-day challenge where the winner is the last person alive. Use of weaponry such as swords, arrows, and mines are encouraged. The story follows a girl named Katniss as she trains to represent her lowly impoverished district and family, then competes along with her partner-turned-combatant, Peeta.
The book’s author, Suzanne Collins, found inspiration from watching a reality show and footage from the invasion of Iraq by US-led forces. What emerges is a cautionary tale designed to leave the viewer feeling uneasy from ten minutes into the movie until the end. Every step and turn features adults reveling in arenas and pageants of bright lights, wine glasses, and enthusiasm, while the viewer wants to stand up and scream that something is wrong. The contest is overseen by an Orwellian organization with advanced technological systems to summon animals and elements to skyrocket television ratings. Seventy-four years into the Hunger Games, this holiday tradition seems to be Collins mash-up many elements that leave humanity with bruises and sinking optimism.
One needs not look further than the infamous Roman gladiator games to tee off. We tend to look down on these, though somehow, Russell Crowe’s epic years ago didn’t pull these same heartstrings. Our culture sees children as the last bastion of innocence, making this an invasion on sacred turf. Having dancing adults in costume celebrating this diabolical holiday seems offensive.
Perhaps more subtle is that H.G. Wells’ Time Machine book should be cited as a source material during the opening credits. Wells’ features a protagonist travels through time until arriving in the extremely distant future where he finds humanity now in two races, the Eloi and the ape-like Morlocks. Wells’ envisions the Eloi as the sympathetic tribe that is being subdued by the Morlocks who have become cannibalistic. Having seen two films dedicated to this book, skip the 2002 version and watch the 1960 edition by George Pal.
Finally, this is the sort of journey that is at least winking at doomsday author George Orwell. In 1984, Orwell paints a future where the bourgeoisie oppressed the proletariat using ultra-evasive technology and other methods. Collins’ world features a hopeless mass of humanity surrendered to an organization of few.
As Collins’ blockbuster completes, the audience is given a would-be satisfying ending. The problem is, the inherent moral code in people is intentionally never left acknowledged to the point that my wife was angry as she left the cinema. The audience’s 142 minute rumble with emotion feels ignored. Collins’ knows very well that inherent in adults is an optimism in her world and ours reserved for children. Seeing a twelve-year-old girl (not graphically) sacrificed at the altar of brainwashed adults for little more than a holiday celebration is horrendously unsettling. For Lionsgate and its $78 million budget, the hope is that the audience will be so unsettled, they will gladly shell out money at the theater to give an inevitable sequel a chance to see the government dismantled out of revenge. As a work of cinema, the movie is well-composed. The plot, however, may easily anger or turn-off its audience if they aren’t given a clue that this isn’t the end.
This week’s monstrous Kony 12 video (which at the time of this writing has 38 million views on YouTube and 12 million on Vimeo) has rocked social media and the concept of non-profits. I’m not here to present a commentary on the video or its cause. I think there’s something perhaps more important going on, here.
For going on two days, the video and its organization have been in the top 10 most tweeted concepts worldwide on Twitter. Facebook groups are all the rage and its unpopular to have any sort of dissenting voice in the conflict.
This engine appears to be the most powerful movement of groupthink ever assembled. Here we have a very well constructed video that pulls on all the right emotional heartstrings, has a grassroots movement ready to unleash, and makes celebrities who know nothing of global politics become its spokespeople.
What concerns me about this is that these elements work. Imagine that this was a completely faulty cause, but it was so well constructed that it also caught fire. This is the dawn of a new age of propaganda, where given the right conditions, the masses can protest and move mountains of politicians, while actually being hypnotized into thinking they are doing what is right.
I worry about the humanness of my generation and those that follow us. I worry about myself, as well.
While I was driving two days ago, I reached for my cell phone which had notified me of a message that had the potential to be important. As I checked it while sitting at a stoplight, I had an epiphany: my world is plastic. For two days, I have been deliberately observing how much of the interactions with my culture are plastic.
Our gadgets. The toys we give to children. The music we “touch.” How we purchase items. How we store food. The vehicles we drive. The glasses we wear. Our televisions. Our shelves. Our doorways.
I suppose it could seem normal and part of 21st century life, but I don’t know that its good.
A few months ago, I acquired a vinyl record player. It plays music when I place a large black primitive CD on a spinning platform, then put a lever with a needle on the CD. I can’t skip tracks magically. I have to move the rod and guess. The experience is foreign. I listen to whole albums, investigating the full narrative of the artist. The sound feels alive. There’s something different about touching music in a format that costs money and is fragile. These massive vinyl records cost more money than CDs and much more than a Spotify account. But when I delicately place this disc on a turntable, the experience feels real. As I type this, I am listening to Mozart on this device.
I accompanied my wife to a playground in Kansas City recently, though this was an indoor playground. Children’s guardians pay money for their under-five-offspring to play in an indoor facility that is extremely safe. Everything they touch is plastic. The slides. The platforms. The tables. The chairs. I wondered: Is a chain on a swing that dangerous? Wasn’t there something somewhat good about a child having grass stains and scars on their elbows? Is an open field with a backstop now a waste of space that could be a parking lot?
My cupboard has two shelves for drinking containers. The lower shelf has glassware, while the higher shelf has glassware. For my entire life, I always chose the plastic cups. They are safer and softer. But for the last few months, I have chosen glassware whenever possible. Beverages taste better. They go down smoother. I can see through them.
I just had to get up to flip the Mozart album on the record player over because it was done playing. I was annoyed, but it feels healthy.
I am a technology enthusiast. Like many of my ilk, a tablet PC was an obvious evolution. So when I chose to read a book on a tablet computer, I forsaw life being better. But reading on a screen is not as involving as turning pages. I finished the book without knowing I was near the end. My sense of accomplishment was zilch. I felt cheated.
I’m not convinced that the Internet has improved my life. No one ever talked of “not having enough time” until the Internet. When people wonder where the time went, it went to a global system of information, commerce, organization, and demands. It is part of our life, though imagine this: suppose you explained how many things you would need the Internet to do and how much of your time it would require to maintain to a person living in the 1970s. I wonder how much it would seem like a good idea.
Years ago as a teen, I found myself mowing yards and making money only to sink it quickly in CD purchases. That was the 90s when CDs were the only way to go and $14 would seem like a bargain. Then the Internet happened.
In 1999, I arrived in high school and heard a few peers talking about a bountiful forrest lush with free music called Napster. I had dabbled in a bit of online file sharing, but when I obtained Napster, the world changed.
As Napster, Aimster, Morpheus, Kazaa, etc rolled on, my CD purchases slowly faded to where by late college, I was buying just a couple albums a year. It was all free. The music industry made it hard to justify buying anything, so I didn’t. Yahoo Music, Napster Free, file sharing, and later YouTube made legitimate file streaming possible. I quit pirating music, but rarely bought an album.
After college, save for a few bands a year, I stopped listening to much music at all. My taste became soundtracks and sitting in silence more than hearing anthems. It was cheaper, relaxing, and I had YouTube. I bought stuff on occasion through iTunes and Amazonmp3, bought on a very rare occasion.
Then came a month ago. A friend of mine demanded that I test-drive Spotify, a European imported music subscription service. I immediately thought it’d be another lame DRM nightmare.
For $10 per month, it’s an all you can download buffet of insanity. Rare tracks and a hot community. Over the last month, I have begin to rediscover the joy of music. The prophets. The eery melodies. The worship. The hooks that make you scream in your car, knowing the car at the stoplight next to you has someone watching.
Repenting is a tough thing to do. A lot of times, its easier to hold dearly to the things that we know we should rethink and change. I suppose the things that are hardest to repent might be the most important.
When I repent of my screw-ups, anger, jealousy, etc, I will find ways to examine it. Journaling. Sitting in silence to meditate about it. Exploring how it came to be. I pray for God to forgive me of the problem and to help me to see an alternate way of thinking or living. Sometimes, I’ll even attempt to imagine life without the issue.
“Classically, there are three ways in which humans try to find transcendence - religious meaning, God meaning - apart from God as revealed in the cross of Jesus: through the ecstasy of alcohol and drugs, through the ecstasy of recreational sex, through the ecstasy of crowds. Church leaders frequently warn against the drugs and the sex, but, at least in America, almost never against the crowds…a crowd destroys the spirit as thoroughly as excessive drink and depersonalized sex. It takes us out of ourselves, but not to God, only away from him. The religious hunger is rooted in the unsatisfactory nature of the self. We hunger to escape the dullness, the boredom, the tiresomeness of me…a crowd is an exercise in false transcendence upward, which is why all crowds are spiritually pretty much the same, whether at football games, political parties, or church.”—
Years ago on an old blog, I received a comment that was the harshest rebuke I’ve ever received. The blog itself has questionable content, but looking back, this rebuke is still awesome.
What life-long profound and comprehensive discipline have you engaged in to enable you to presume to lecture others on how they should live?
Who were/are your LIVING Spiritual Teachers? Such Teachers being necessary to guide you and more importantly to challenge you to examine ALL of your ideas and opinions about quite literally everything.
Have you been humbled by your own sweat and suffering?
If you read the biographies of the great Saints and Realizers from all of the traditions you will find that most of them went through a profound ordeal of struggle and testing until they came to their Spiritual maturity—it often took decades.
You are mortal and entirely subject to the Mercy of The Divine. You own nothing and know nothing. There is not anything to be believed that is the Truth.
You must be touched in your feeling by the unspeakable suffering of this world, and thus become broken hearted. It is only on that basis that you can truly serve others.
Everything else is just an extension of your own unexamined obnoxiousness, and your drive to achieve power and control over others.
I’m a fan of the Bible. I’ve read it more than any other book and am moderately familiar with portions of its origins, (take the Deutero-Isaiah controversy or the “Q Source Hypothesis,” for example). All that being said, over the last few years, I’ve heard voices muttering concepts about the Scriptures that have helped me to re-place the Bible in a healthier context.
I work in a relatively large church with a student ministries department. Over time, I’ve become quite aware that students don’t read books. No - I mean they really don’t read books. This is probably rooted not just in our YouTube culture, but the way in which schools present the concept of learning. I digress and hope to live to write about that another day. Its something of a new illiteracy, only this one is self-inflicted.
In 2004 as an experiment for a class I had taught to teens in a program called Remnant, I had students all turn their Bibles in and held them captive for a week, leaving just one Bible for the lot of 30 of them to rip pages out and pass it around like some kind of persecuted church. The experiment proved interesting: all but 4 of them lived their lives no differently. I suppose its odd that it took me 4 years to begin to ask more about it.
By 2008, I began to be nagged with a question: how do we teach students Christian thinking when they don’t read the Bible? Now mind you, I grew up in a non-denominational, Baptist-ish context, so this was a lethal question to me.
I entered a thought experiment: if the global church seemed to get by prior to Gutenberg’s printing press (and the birth of Western mass-literacy), clearly there are principles we can apply to our context today. The answer is in their liturgy, authority, and stories. Theology prior to the 15th century was passed on like a torch to the next generation, and even among the Hebrew people, through stories and songs. Those who composed these mediums were very cautious with vocabulary selection to be clear, succinct, and to describe God as God is (through good hermeneutics and a Christ-centered focus).
All this being said, I still study Scripture, but I have come to value the global church much, much more than I once did. I trust the church, who gave us the Bible. The notion that one can be a Christian without the church is intriguing given the source of its canon.
Moving forward, I won’t ever tell students not to read the text (I actually do encourage it). As someone who would like to see them “get it,” my dream is to see the stories, emotions, themes, and melodies of the text come alive in their lives so much that they want to live lives that are fully alive.
Update: Below, you’ll find links to three past blogs on the subject from an old blog of mine.
Tomorrow, I’ll be interviewed by a radio show on KVCO of Concordia, Kansas sometime from 5-7 PM. It might turn into a returning segment with the host. This week’s topic will be the lightning rod of controversy that is Westboro Baptist Church and the Phelps family. For those of you who have managed to avoid this group’s message, it involves a strong disdain for homosexuality and major contempt for any nations or individuals that do not condemn the LGBT community. This is escalated to the point of the church picketing events, including the funerals of American military personnel.
Most of the criticism hurled their way involves the rhetoric they use, questions about a loving God sending people to Hell, court cases involving their right to protest, and counter-protests against their protests. Nearly the entire global Christian response has been to condemn their message, but in an age of 10,000 popes, it doesn’t slow them down.
Worth noting is that Phelps was very involved in the civil rights movement in Kansas decades ago on behalf of the black community, even taking buckets of criticism for standing up for the black community.
Having had a Westboro picket event at my own church, I’ve seen the ramifications firsthand. Christians should pray for this community to grow and change and for God’s grace and mercy to reign with this interpretation of Scripture. Its a cancer that affects the global Church’s image.
As an aside, for those that like these sort of matters, Phelps and company are Hyper-Calvinists, which raises questions about why they actually care.
I finished up Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins yesterday and have been surprised at the number of people asking what I think. I think all the hooplasurroundingthebook is pretty staggering, with Good Morning America interviews, Twitter melting down with talk of theology, and more. Under his own admission, the book says nothing new - its a composite of a lot of other’s views with Bell’s style. That being said, there’s a lot to discuss.
Disclaimer: If you have already decided this book is a heresy having not read the book, this review is not for you. Please close this page and move along.
Love Wins takes on a tone different from Bell’s other work, the most successful being Velvet Elvis. The chapters are considerably longer. The stories are more sobering. The fluffy footnotes are replaced by a list of recommended books at the end, not surprisingly including C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright. Yet, Bell’s trademark pages with a lot of
very short sentences
are still present. Bell has matured, having dealt with being a public figure and pastoring a large church for several years.
Theologically, this is not the work of a universalist. It does, however, swing that direction. Bell is still well within the creeds, even citing Athanasius, the ever controversial Origen, and others as being in the same ballpark. Bell gives a light-hearted walk through the few references to Hell, Gehenna, Hades, and Sheol in the Bible, then uses it as a platform to say that we know very little.
Not surprisingly, Bell’s great hope is the resurrection, with Bell even taking a veiled shot at escapist theology. What causes all the controversy is his assertion that after death, God’s love is so big that He can (and wants to) be united with all believers. What we do in this life does matter, but in the aion (age) to come, the gates of Heaven on Earth will remain wide open for others to jump into the Kingdom of God.
Bell does a fair job of addressing questions about eternity and the elusive word “forever,” though this is not a scholarly work. It doesn’t belong in seminaries as a textbook. This belongs in bookstores for however long it lasts (probably not longer than twenty years) for everyday readers to engage in questions about postmortem issues if they are willing to be open to asking hard questions about our assumptions.
If its a scholarly work you are looking for, might I recommend Canada’s Bradley Jersak’s Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, as a thorough treatment of the issue. Jersak owns this topic with his under-rated work that for the serious-minded Christian would make a great “next step” following Love Wins.
Back to Love Wins, do I recommend this book? If you haven’t ever questioned our cultural assumptions about after-death issues and are willing to be wrong, its a good start. Bell’s writing style makes it easy to pound a 25 page chapter and smile along the way because even if he’s wrong, having a really excited view of how big God’s love is will probably not steer one wrong. Under his own admission, this book has more questions than answers. If Western Christians are willing to engage in this questions and dialog in healthy ways, it will have done its job.
I work full-time in a youth department for a large, suburban church. I have been there as a student or leader since 1999 and have seen several “cycles” of students come and go. All the while, it seems that there’s an underlying belief from parents and students that weekly Wednesday night experiences and supplemental meetings become the primary means of formation for young people.
This may instantly seem like a soapbox about students needing to spend time privately worshipping God and praying. It isn’t. Those may have a great deal of advantages, but at this point in my career, I am not convinced that this is the main way students are formed spiritually or in general maturation.
Several years ago I encountered a teenager we’ll call Ted who often seemed like things were just not working out in life. He would attend church and had a stable group of friends who did the same, but this young man had a darker side. Ted’s anger was hidden, but burned with a hidden ember about his misfortunes, so the slightest hint of people possibly not having the most noble of intentions toward him would eat him away.
After months of being around him, I realized there had to be more to the story than a series of unfortunate events. I had seen Christians prophesy about great things Ted would do in his future, which actually freaked him out more than it encouraged him. Upon probing and being more observant, I discovered more of Ted’s story.
Ted’s mother had been in jail for several years with no end in sight. His dad had moved from recreational drug use to a habitual use of drugs that would relax the mind or produce hallucinogenic scenarios in his mind. Ted and is brother had been hurt a lot by his maternal and paternal guardians, but had never had real parents who showed him love.
As Ted grew up, the view of affectionate love and responsibility he had gained from his mother had left him unable to make commitments and unable to trust others. His mistrust for the primary authority in his life (his biological father) and only seeing leadership through anger and pain had left him now unresponsive to matters that lacked emotion and never feeling like he could be good enough for anyone.
Ted was left with wounds he inherited without chromosomes. Ted’s parental influences may give him a limp for quite sometime, if not the rest of his life. For Ted, trusting an earthly father has made trusting what Christians call a “Heavenly Father” a difficult translation. The idea that love involves sacrifice for others or working in concert with the desire of another is unfamiliar at best. For Ted, it’s all an uphill battle.
I write all this as an example of something I have pondered for years about the nature of youth ministry. The amount of time students are formed by their church is meager despite our best attempts at programs, camps, trips, and the elusive “perfect service.” Children are primarily formed by their parents and guardians. Through recovery processes, some of this can be overcome, but the most formational ministry a child will encounter, whether positive or negative, will be in the home. To this end, I offer a few honors:
- To those parents who refused to sacrifice their children at the altar of Convenience in a hospital bed, your gift of life is precious.
- To those parents who have never hurt their children, thank you.
- To those parents who care, I salute you.
- To those parents who model weekly church attendance and respect for authority, you are heroic.
- To those parents who attempt to raise children to be full of values that are consistent with Christian ethics, your children will bring you great joy.
- To those parents who display the beauty of an ongoing relationship with God without creating a performance-based system of approval, your children will find it easier to serve God.
- To those parents who trust God with their parenting so much that they choose not to overprotect their children so they can help them along in decision making instead of treating young adults like young children, you are the ultimate parents.
The job of the youth ministry has transformed with the culture over the past decade to encompass supplementing parenting or in some cases replacing parenting. It is with great honor that I connect with this generation and crave to see those who have been wounded find new ways to walk and thrive. I am not yet a parent and humbly pray that I will have the courage and humility to make good decisions one day.
A Prayer for Parents
Almighty and intelligent God,
You have blessed us with the gift of passing your Kingdom to the next generation.
Grant that we may make wise decisions that train our children.
Give us grace as we give you space to be trusted instead of choking on our insecurities.
We are kids who grew up and had kids. Teach us childlike faith.
Make us creative and help us to always model genuine love before all other things,
Just as the Father loves the Son, the Son connects with the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit serves the Father today and forever.
This week, I tweeted that I had obtained an Apple iPad. My work laptop had died, and after a month of pondering and researching, i made the decision to move to Cupertino. Those who know me well know that I have a strong disdain for Apple, despite having been a former iPhone owner. I figured that explaining how I ended up with this may help some others as they consider iPad.
To begin, let’s talk about tablets. I have liked the tablet concept all the way back to the mess that was Windows XP Tablet Edition. I have owned a netbook and notebook computer, but the instant-on ability of s tablet form factor fits my workflow better. Most of my job involves going from meriting to meeting, conversation to conversation, service to service. Tablets have many downsides, but with a desktop at home and computer workstations I can borrow at work, i had options.
I was an early adopter of the first generation iPhone. I loved its cutting edge technology, syncing eith media, and web browsing. Over time, I grew to hate AT&T for a variety of reasons, but also disliked Apple policies. The absence of letting me, the user, choose whether or not to be able to use Adobe Flash remains absurd to me. Apple has prevented many great Apps from being downloaded (see the Google Voice debacle, for example). Apple prevents innovation that could unlock the potential of their powerful devices.
I took my smartphone business to Android with a couple devices and liked it. Android has a platform from Google that lets a person install other Apps, systems, and tweaks that even the carriers hate. Android allows Adobe Flash, but has a much smaller App Market and battery issues. I still recommend Android phones over iPhones, but for an iPad, the story changes.
Google is currently on the cusp of releasing Android 2.3, aka Gingerbread. Ginger improves many things, but Google has openly said They really wont address tablet functionality until Android 2.4, aka Honeycomb later in 2011. Tablets with Android currently are running what is literally a tweaked mobile phone system. Even the 7” Samsung Galaxy Tab is far from fully ready for prime time despite some nice features.
The January Consumer Electronics Show will feature a slew of Android Tablets, including the one that tempted me, the Notion Ink Adam. Notion is a fresh company out of India with a great product but questionable support and policies. With a work device, I can’t take risks. Until Google has released a genuinely tablet-oriented OS, there is iPad and a horde of pretenders.
If I were making this decision late in 2011, it would have possibly gone a different direction, but the Android market is just not there. So I here I sit, having blogged on an iPad. After one day of use, I have already found my suspicions to be true. Its quick and handy. I also have run into 3 pages where I wanted Flash and wish it had a camera. But for my workflow, this appears to be a good fit. And maybe, just maybe, Uncle Steve will let up in his old age.
I find myself in an intriguing position when it comes to politics. My family is traditionally conservative, while my wife’s family is more progressive/liberal. As a result, both sides are convinced that I’m “on the other team.” Perhaps I am in the middle somewhere. Or perhaps its something else.
This week’s debate about the merits of a more centralized health care system, I find myself agreeing with both sides and disagreeing with both sides. So in speaking with people from both sides, they see me as insensitive or blinded. Lazy or intolerant. Republican or democrat. Christian or Christian. Antichrist or Antichrist. Right or wrong.
All the while, it reminds me of a recent conversation with a high school student. I was asked by a 14 year old girl what my favorite color is. Truth is, I hadn’t this question in years, but I had a quick answer: Grey. Yes, yes - to most it is boring. But her answer was definitely more profound than she thinks:
"Grey isn’t a color."
Maybe that is the point. Perhaps grey is the absence of black and white. It is admiring the beauty of not always having to know everything. It is surrendering the right to always be right. It is seeing all the other colors as beautiful from the vantage point of “that other color.”
This American experiment is still young. Nations rise and fall, and no empire is immune to this maxim. Maybe I am too progressive and maybe I am too conservative. But I find myself putting more and more hope in Jesus government than rich lawyers in suits governing, regardless of their opinions about who pays for brain cancer, what happens to children of rape, and their ideas about greed vs freedom. My enemies are men like me.
I think Jon Foreman’s vision for what America can be is more appealing to me than any talking head, elected official, or protester I have heard thus far.
I have come to embrace the idea that our beliefs need not be limited to a bulleted list of maxims. The tale of Christianity is one that stretches thousands of years of plot twists, betrayals, failure, and hope that can be told in many ways. Over the past year or so, I have been working to frame it into a summation. It is best conveyed verbally, but here is a stab at what it looks like.
From out of an empty expanse of empty, God spoke creation into being. He formed a good project of beauty and placed humans in the creation of paradise called Eden. Through a temptation from a serpent to desire to be like God, Eve and Adam fell from God’s purpose for them and chose to live their own way. Naked and with God’s project in shambles, they were sent from the garden, and God’s direct interface with them through Heaven was separated from their material planet. People, made in God’s image, no longer had him to directly reflect.
Within one generation, this race began to investigate what knowing what God knows could reveal. The ability to slaughter one’s brother out of jealousy. The desire to rape. The desire to have all of humanity converge into one global empire to ascend to heaven once again. Evil on the mind at all times.
God, a being three-in-one, opted to plot a multi-generational rescue mission for humanity to restore what had been lost at Eden. First, he attempted to start fresh with a man named Noah. Not long after, the plan was derailed. God hit the reset button again, calling a man named Abraham from a frustrating city to move to a new land where he would begin the plot. Abraham believed God, and after much waiting, he and his wife Sarah had a son named Isaac.
Isaac was the son of these fathers of the faith and had Jacob and Esau, twins. After much betrayal in the family, Jacob had the torched passed to him, and in a wrestling match with God, became the father of great nation to come. His 12 kids hated their youngest brother, Joseph, and sold him into slavery.
From Egypt, Joseph arose to high political power in a great empire. His brothers and their families moved to Egypt in a famine, and were conscripted as slaves. This family became over a million strong, and out of a giant rush of infanticide, one orphan named Moses was called by God like Noah and Abraham to lead a slave rebellion to go start a new nation. After much miracle working, this nation was delivered by God.
On their journey, God enacted a contract with this new nation to bring good to them, eradicate diseases, and make other nations join in their faith if they would hold up their end of the bargain. Upon claiming their land, this country began a shameful cycle of ignoring God, crying to God for help, and being restored. All the while, prophets were praying and proclaiming that something significant would one day happen.
Hundreds of years of war, prophets, and torture later, God directly intervened in our story. No longer content to watch his creation in disrepair, God injected himself into the womb of a teenage girl who had never had sex to be born as a small child. This child was born into an empire that tolerated no other political system and grew to be a man named Jesus, who never screwed up or screwed others over. He spent three years as a rabbi, proclaiming this plot was coming into its finest hour as a new Kingdom that would collide with humanity’s idea for how to live.
Jesus’ message made him the enemy of a religious system and political empire that could not survive its nature. Love your enemies. Anyone can connect with God regardless of their background. Don’t be angry. Forgive contagiously. These beats create a rhythm that makes all the other music go silent, then the other conductors try to set the concert hall on fire.
To squelch this plot, they devised their own plot to have this King of the Jews assassinated. His sentence for claiming to be the King was capital punishment, and he was executed on a cross. God was dead.
Three days later, this Jesus rose from the dead under his own power. Twelve men had followed him for three years and were now sent to go spread his message with reckless abandon. These Apostles began this message within their Jewish faith, but its luster was so appealing and its motive so pure, it spread to other races and nations.
The same empire that executed Jesus despised this system for proclaiming Jesus as the genuine ruler of the planet. They were often killed, themselves. Generations passed with Christians dying for God’s plot - martyrs for the message.
Today, after many ups and downs, that message has been passed to us like a torch. And one day, this risen King will return to his planet to bring about God’s grand finale. Earth and Heaven will be reconnected to restore God’s creation. Evil and injustice will be eradicated, and God’s original family will be redeemed. From now until that day, we can work to make that restoration a reality by jumping in, discovering Jesus’ message, and sharing the exciting news with others that God hasn’t given up - He’s in the middle of fixing it all.
Tonight I went on a binge changing my personal email address and passwords associated with the address I’ve had since 2003. I still have my professional address, but but changing the ID, a Spamified account is now tamer.
What I realized from all this is JUST how integrated my life has become with the Internet. How many companies, ammenities, opportunities, and ideas are tied to a screen? Its baffling.
Here’s to a simplified new existence online…if all goes well.
***UPDATE*** All is NOT going well. GoogleTube has screwed us!
My Google Account is my fresh new Gmail address, which I am happy to have. But in their infinite wisdom, they have linked a YouTube account to my name which I have logged into on occasion. Rather than a personal ID, it is actually one for my job I use to upload videos for my profession.
Lets say I leave my current job one day and really shouldn’t be uploading videos from this account anymore. The logical thing to do is sever the link and all is well.
Buuuuut no. Google has made the bond inseperable. And hundreds of YouTubers are furious in their forums. They have even covered up a few options users found along the way. WHYYYYYY?
My wife began her new job at a local call center. I didn’t get called in to substitute teach today, so here I am at home with a rare day alone. I’ll probably do some church work today, but I haven’t had a day at home alone in about 6 weeks since The Wife got home from Korea.
And then there’s those cool kids at Bungie, who are tickling Halo players with news of this Fall’s “Halo: Reach” title. Screen shots, concept art, and character bios are now present. Check it out here. For those wondering, yes, I am geek enough to stand in line for this title at midnight on launch night. And yes, you should join me.
MaBell & Veriwi have both dropped their unlimited calling packages, hoisted as a price war and giving more value for the consumer.
At the same time, they are now going to require people with quick messaging phones (ie LG Neon & LG Envy) to have a data plan. Great. So the Samsung Impression I bought to AVOID a data plan & the MotoQ we bought my wife to AVOID a data plan (by buying it unlocked) may now require one? Thanks AT&T.
In related news, no similar announcement from T-Mobile or Sprint, who are both looking like tastier carriers.
The big story here is not kids views about Obama, but what kids are wishing for. Our culture is “scripting” them to lust for certain things for their lives - charting their course with compasses of hope for (in this order):
And these rank higher than: happiness, a long life, and a better world.
Say hello to the children of Empire.
We have an opportunity to train up children to believe for bigger things than consumerism can deliver. Let’s make this young generation crave great things.
Why I don't play Modern Warfare 2 (but do play Gears of War 2 & Halo 3)
These days whenever I sign onto XBOX Live, I am greeted by a friends list of people who are almost all playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Over and over I receive online invites to play along, and a few friends who are stumped that I don’t play the game. That being said, I figured it might help to get a few thoughts about this subject out.
First and foremost, this is a finely crafted game (save the numerous glitches being uncovered weekly, which isn’t rare for a title like this). Its snappy at connecting to multiplayer matches, has a diverse offering of weapons and maps, and a great system for ranking up and achievements. Its a great game and should be the top selling title of the year. To those that like MW2, I’m not hatin’ on you here.
That being said, I’ve sampled every Call of Duty game going back to Call of Duty 2. None of them have tickled my fancy. Call me insane, not a true gamer, etc, but games like this, Army of Two, Brothers in Arms, and the like are all well-made games for their genre, but that genre is lacking in innovation.
Pick up a in this genre from 5 years ago and the ONLY real innovation you will find is online play and ranking improving (something virtually every video game has). They have similar map structures, team-based objectives, etc. It looks similar visually, has the same game types, and very little innovation in the campaigns.
Anyone who does know my game playing habits knows Gears of War 2 is my go-to game (and has been since December ‘08). Gears 2 has game-types not found on other games or variations of concepts on other games. For example: - Submission is a one-flag game with the flag being a neutral enemy teams must carry to their side - Annex puts a new spin on Halo’s territories gametype with an easier concept to examine - After a terrible start to matchmaking and a bad ranking system, four title updates have led to a quick matchmaking system & the easiest ranking system to understand of any major title - Great occasional events - While they weren’t the first to do something similar, Gears2 was the first game to make team-based survival modes (they call Horde), a major innovation in the industry which other games are copying over and over - Most awesome is the 3rd-person cover system, a snappy, more tactical approach than running and blasting away
Overall, Gears has done way more to push the industry. At the same time, I am caught up in pursuit of its 100 rank (currently at a 53) and 100,000 kills (currently over 23,000). The achievement system is very friendly at updating you, and any game you play contributes to an achievement.
Gears poses itself in a post-apocolyptic universe, as does my other go-to franchise, the Halo Universe.
Yes, its overplayed and reaching nauseating levels of burnout (Halo Legends, anyone?) But for Christmas, I was stoked to get a copy of Halo 3: ODST for the Firefight mode (another variation of Gears2’s Horde mode), a short campaign, and an expanded Halo 3 multiplayer experience. Halo offers superhuman abilities, universal appeal, an unparalleled video game universe, and other unique elements (dare I mention post-carnage celebrations?)
When it comes to LAN parties, Halo offers a 4-player experience nearly all gamers have experienced, and can pick up to play. Unlike Modern Warfare 2 which offers NO ability to play on XBOX Live with more than one player on a TV (an earthshattering revelation to me), or Gears2 which only lets two be on a screen at once, Halo 3 allows 4 players on a TV for a great night.
Web radio is really coming into its own, and two services are really at the top of the heap (though others are also popular). Here are my thoughts about these two services:
For several years, I’ve been an off-and-on Pandora user. Fueled by what they call the “Music Genome Project” Pandora has a massive catalog of songs, each categorized by over 400 attributes, such as tempo, lyrical content, etc. Users identify artists and songs they like, then songs that are similar according to the Project play together. I put together a few decent stations over time you can check out:
I like Pandora’s abilities and its flexibility to also work on nearly any device, including iPhone, Web OS, Crackberry, Windows Phone, and more.
All that being said, something interrupted my system a few months ago. Microsoft’s XBOX 360 introduced Pandora’s big competitor, last.fm, into its Dashboard interface. I jumped in and have been impressed with it, but in a different kind of way.
last.fm’s approach is less scientific and more glamorous. The interface looks very Web 2.0, with a gorgeous library of photographs for each artist that appear online, on mobile devices, and on XBOX 360 as your music plays. If Billboard had been created in 2010, I think it would look more like this service, complete with charts and the like. Users who search last.fm for an artist or song are greeted with an invitation to play ___(search syntax)___ radio, which amounts to the same effect as Pandora. You can check out my personal last.fm profile here, or just take a glance to the right of this webpage.
The Verdict That being said, Pandora appears to have a deeper and more accurate catalog. My attempts to make a trance Christmas station in December failed miserably with much work on last.fm, but succeeded on Pandora in about 20 minutes. And more often than Pandora, last.fm will sneak in a track that makes me go “ummm…where did you come from?”
But for all its accuracy, Pandora lacks in having an open API for others applications to use it. last.fm on its various platforms recommends artists and has smashing artist pages to tell you more about the musicians. Think MySpace with web radio and without the ugly interfaces MySpace never got over.
So for me, the choice more often than not is now last.fm. Pandora is good for a more definitive sound, but last.fm is for the true music junkie with a more robust offering. I would expect last.fm will catch-up with its catalog, while Pandora appears to be content to be the most accurate service of the two.
You can give your thoughts about this below. So, any thoughts about these or similar services?
In conversations with people both professionally and personally, a lot of people connected to me are wrestling with God. Some are doubting God, others are angry with God, while others just don’t know what to think.
Monotheistic history is riddled with tales of people who had epic struggles with God. Moses argued with God. Job blamed God for all his woes. Adam wanted to be like God, then hid from God. Jacob wrestled with God. Abraham doubted God. Sarah laughed at God. Joseph wondered why he was stuck in an awful situation. The Hebrew people wished for a new leader to take them a new direction. David pleaded with God. Solomon made a deal with God. Jeremiah weeped with God. Jonah ran away from God. John the Baptist questioned God. Peter denied God. Thomas doubted God. The disciples deserted God. Judas betrayed God. Saul persecuted God.
These stories always seem so insignificant in our own situations. We utter things like:
"But you don’t understand…"
"You don’t know where I’ve come from…"
And yet, these countless stories all seem to add up to one solid truth: those who wrestle with God never win, but always succeed.