Thursday, May 31, 2007

Parallels?

I was thinking about Jesus' statement that James and John need to "lay down your nets (they were fishermen) and follow me". I wonder if it's kind of a fair comparison for us Web developers to "lay down our Internets" (though I hate adding the s since it's not correct, there is not more than one Internet).

So, is it even a valid parallel?

I especially thought about this when reading about another individual who uses the Internet exactly 3 hours each day. Then it's no more e-mail, Web browsing, reading, IMing or whatever. I can't see how I could live life that way, but then I wonder if I can't see it because I'm so entrenched in it.

Peace,

+Tom

One Thing

Do you ever with you could do just one thing and do it well?

I've been off the blogosphere (I sometimes wonder if Rob and three of his blog readers made this term up all on his own) for a little over a week now and looking at my "To-Do" list of blog ideas. I've missed blogging, but none of my To-Do's have been enough to get me on my duff and writing. Then I came across this post on being inflexible by my friend Mason. This got me really interested in Wil's blog and a little bit envious of the fact that he is a programmer, just a programmer. This is evidenced his response of "OMG none of those words mean anything to me. I just write software." to the following comment.

That is why you do things like TDD - in a sense, you model the use cases, which serve as tests. You can in turn derive the interface contracts from them and then write code that you use - which you can then measure code coverage (for both unit & integration testing).

It's funny because, as a consultant/programmer/project manager/college student leader/blogger/father and whatever else is expected of me, I understood all of that language, what he meant by it all and why it makes sense.

Got me wondering, why do we do so many different things? Why do we attempt to be an expert at so many things? The more I see of the world the more I begin to recognize that the people who focus on just one thing really are the happiest. I see a lot of stay at home moms who are just amazingly happy and excellent parents. I see programmers who do strict programming and, while I have a harder time seeing this as being able to work successfully in our organizations, they can put out some really solid code and understand everything about a program. I see priests who focus on only teaching a good Sunday message and nothing else, who become world-famous speakers.

That's not to say none of these people do anything else. I mean, the great speaker still goes on mission trips. The great mother still has fun without her family and the great programmer may also spend time working with the homeless. But we need to recognize that there can only be one thing we're great at. Why don't we recognize what that one thing is that we're passionate about and then realize, often the harder thing to do, that we won't be great at other things? I may be good, even above average, but I'm not going to be great.

I wonder what my "one thing" is. Any idea what yours is?

Peace,

+Tom

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Confirmation Prostration

Looking for pictures of confirmation (nothing was good) for my last post I came across this picture from a Catholic confirmation.


This is not to be critical in any way, but can any of you good Catholics out there explain what they're doing? I'd greatly appreciate it.

Thanks,

+Tom

Confirmation

Ok, I went a bit crazy talking about Altar Calls. I thought I went way overboard, but thankfully my friend Cindy has kept me grounded and let me know I didn't go incredibly overboard. I must say, having an altar call at a funeral shocked me. I understand and appreciate people getting the chance to discuss how Christ has changed their lives, but a funeral is all about the person who now gets to enjoy eternity with God. In my case I hope it's a big party for people.

So, if you kick altar calls out of the running, how do we have conversations about Christ and when is it appropriate to make a public commitment to Him? How can we take the next step from simply showing up Sunday mornings and deciding to commit every action of our live to Christ?

A lot of protestant churches have huge baptism ceremonies. Adults make a commitment to wash away their sins through water (sometimes dunking their entire bodies in a lake or pool or something) and entering into a new life. Episcopalians and Catholics do this when you are a baby. We are born into sin but welcomed into a pure life with our birth sins washed away. For all intents and purposes we start life with a clean slate and with a recognition that the entire community, all Episcopalians in the world, will do whatever we can to raise the child to understand Christ's teachings.

The Episcopal and Catholic churches have something called Confirmation (yeah, it's got some longer official name, The Sacrament of Confirmation if you're curious). With us crazy Episcopalians it happens when you are pretty close to 16. At 16 you become an adult in the eyes of the church, though the Wikipedia article has far more details than I knew about it. Some adults who are new to the Episcopal Church also go through the process. Others attend simply to be reminded of what they agreed to so long ago.

In the Episcopal churches I've attended we have a weekend where we dive into church history and learn all about what it means to be Christian and an Episcopalian. Other churches have programs over the summer to get this information in. Catholic churches have years of this to make sure we really understand what we're getting ourselves into. There's one Sunday a year where the bishop (like a state representative, in our case Virginia has three of them, one will visit each year) comes and welcomes these confirmants (too many big words in the church, don't get me started on the terms used for people becoming a priest) into the Church community (Church with a big "C" meaning all Episcopal churches everywhere).

I've also attended a Bat Mitzvah (I only knew girls, boys get a Bar Mitzvah) which is similar to confirmation. Truthfully though, the Jews have this down far better than we do.

I'm beginning to think that we need to reinvent how we treat the sacrament of confirmation within the church.

Right now most teens I know go through the process because either

  • Their parents are making them do it, or
  • Their friends are doing it.

I know of a few people who really recognize and dive into the commitment they are making to Christ only to forget within a few years that they even made this life change. Many, many more, me included, don't even see it as a life change. It's another step we take because we're supposed to.

I wonder what it would be like if we changed that up. What if confirmation class was less about church history and more about what it means to fully live as a follower of Christ? What if every confirmant was required to spend 100 hours serving in the community? What if every confirmant was required to share their story of how Christ has changed their lives… with friends outside the church?

Jesus accepted each of us the moment that we accepted him. He's loved us unconditionally since the day we were born. What if confirmation was all about finding practical ways to understand His love and to share it with strangers, our friends and our enemies?

Peace,

+Tom

P.S. Someday I'd like to be a bishop for one reason only, because they get to wear cool purple shirts. Yeah, I only hope when god strikes me down He makes sure my family is safe a long way away from me.

Altar Calls

There is something done at certain churches and large Christian events called altar calls. For those of us who aren’t incredibly familiar with them, the Episcopal Church doesn't do this. Altar call is a time where we ask people to make a public acceptance of Jesus and their faith.

Essentially you hear a moving message about how Jesus can save your life, then you’re asked that if you feel Jesus moving in your life come forward and accept him as your savior.

I've experienced this a few times, mainly at the Creation festival in Pennsylvania. One night they have a very moving speaker come up and really describe how Jesus has an unconditional love for us and how he sacrificed himself so that we can live without gilt and shame. No matter what you've done wrong, if you accept Jesus and live your life for him, your past is behind you. Then there’s a prayer where you should stand up if you love Jesus and feel him moving in your life.

While I see some benefit here, in my experience Jesus has always been a personal relationship. I want to share that relationship with others, but my own walk comes through lots of interaction and discussions with other people who already know Him. A single prayer or speech can move me for a moment but it doesn’t keep the staying power you get from a real support network of other people who believe what you do.

I mainly mention this because I read a bunch of different blogs for Christian preachers (priests, speakers, rectors, whatever). In many cases they have services every now and then where they call people forward to accept Christ, then the are really excited when 300 – 1,000 people come forward in accepting him by either going up to the altar (that big area at the front of the church where the preacher speaks and service is led) or by filling out a card signifying your acceptance.

I just always wonder about these numbers. How many of these people make an acceptance knowing what they are getting into? After leading teenagers for a few years there have been a bunch of them who have gone to the prayer tent or filled out the acceptance card during some event without really understanding what they are accepting. They also make these acceptances without any support in the way of how to go forward in this new relationship.

I was reading this post on Invitations and Altar Calls and found myself really resonating with what Michael said. I think their approach to meeting new people and finding out where they are in faith is far better.

It makes sense that someone is initially curious about the whole Jesus thing and wants to get some questions answered. We want to see why it’s important that Jesus and God are the ones to follow over the gods or religious leaders of other religions. I also think most people want to know what it actually means to accept Jesus Christ as my savior. Very often we talk about all the good things that come from loving him, but we never seem to talk about the sacrifices we also need to make (I suspect this is mainly because most people who have decided to follow Christ have not yet decided to fully commit their lives to him).

Ok, this has become something of a rant. My opinion is pretty clear at this point, so I’ll just quit. I’ll leave you with this.

If you know someone who is looking to learn about Christ, don't expect them to publicly decide to follow Him. Don’t try to trick him into following by only giving the good parts and not explaining what Jesus asks of us in return. If you don’t know what Jesus acts of you, figure that out too.

A life in faith isn’t easy. It’s content, it’s trusting, it’s full of love, but certainly not easy. We can’t expect that a full understanding of what accepting Jesus means with only a half hour public speech about him.

Peace,
+Tom

Monday, May 21, 2007

When Tradition Falls Short

I was at a discernment retreat the weekend before last and had an awesome time. There was one piece to the weekend with really frustrated me. Each day we'd have morning, noonday and evening prayer in the chapel. The services themselves were great if confusing.

You see, in the Episcopal church we have a Book of Common Prayer (or in layman's terms, the red book). It has a line by line description of what we do through a service, when to kneel and stand, what prayers to say, etc. It can certainly be a bit confusing the first couple of times since you jump around the book a lot, which is why we have a program for each service to explain where to jump to at a given time.

The retreat center had a different book which was all about service of special orders. Things like the morning, noonday and evening prayer. Sounds all well and good, I cracked mine open and flipped to the evening prayer section.

The problem was that we never followed the book at all. I was incredibly confused. There was some opening prayer with a two sentence response apparently I should have known by heart, since it was never written or spelled out anywhere. Needless to say I enjoyed silent reflection during this prayer. The entire service went on its own program with no leadership at all, except how to respond to the prayers of the people.

All I could think about was that this was a retreat center with lots of people from all different faiths showing up. It seemed amazing to me that someone would show up to a service and it was assumed people would know what to do. If I hadn't been to church much I would have been immediately turned off and made the simple realization that church is for those who are already included, those who aren't familiar with our ways are outsiders who must conform or leave.

I wasn't going to even mention this until I came across Scot McKnight's blog entry titled "Advice on Attending an Episcopalian Church". I love the Episcopal Church, and some of that is because of our tradition. It's good to know that no matter which Episcopal Church I go to I will have a familiar structure, familiar prayers and everyone will go to receive communion together as one community. It's familiar and comfortable.

The problem comes up when that familiarity excludes those who aren't already familiar with it. Scot mentions

Which led to at least three times that we were sitting when everyone else was standing, or standing when everyone else was kneeling (the most embarrassing moment of all, when Kris glanced behind her and whispered "We are the only ones standing."), or sitting when everyone else was kneeling.

While the traditions were never put in place to embarrass someone, people who are new to the church want anything but to be recognized as doing the wrong thing. People are already uncomfortable enough being in some strange situation, when I feel called out as different all I want to do is leave as quickly as possible.

I know this was not what Scot was thinking about when he made the post. It's gotten me thinking though that whether it's in church, school, work or even in your home. When someone new comes in we need to do whatever we can to stick by them and make them feel welcome. We need to gently walk them through the service and let them know that someone is taking a genuine interest in them.

What sort of things to do you every day that makes it hard for you to welcome someone different?

Peace,

+Tom

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Filters

I recently heard this practice.

Look around you and see everything you can find that's red. Take your time and find everything.



Now, close your eyes and picture or identify all of the red things in your mind.



Ok, now remember the blue things around you.



What's directly behind you? What's the color and texture of the wall?



Open your eyes and look around. How close were you?

Most people will find that they can remember very few, if any, blue things. In my case I remembered one, but I was driving and kind of faking the process. I couldn't picture anything behind me without cheating.

The point is that we go around looking at only a fraction of the world. We notice very little when there is so much more around us to see and experience.

By staying within our comfortable and static lives we begin to insulate ourselves to only the world in which we surround ourselves. We begin to forget how to interact with the rest of the world.

I was in Richmond this past weekend, right next to a couple of relatively bad neighborhoods. It was a lot like when I grew up in DC. I found that it was very hard to remember how I lived that way and how to feign disinterest in everything around me. Really, I felt like an outsider. The only people I really connected with in the community were Caucasian, some in college and all within either a store or the retreat center. I just couldn't remember how to be comfortable enough to talk to strangers in this environment.

What do you do to break out of your community and remove those filters? How do you see everything the world has to offer? If you don't stretch outside yourself regularly, why not?

Peace,

+Tom

My Feelings Exactly


What possesses someone to take a good show, end the season in January and not have a new episode until 2008? It's a good thing I have TiVo of I'd likely miss a bunch of episodes when it comes back. I really wonder what will happen to the ratings when they come back.

This is a perfect example of continuing to remain consistent so that people stay in the habit.

Peace (if it can be called peace… a year with no new Battlestars, he, he),

+Tom

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I Choose

I choose to look forward to the phone call with my manager

I choose to be content with what I have

I choose to enjoy my friendship with God

I choose to be happy

I choose to dream

I choose to enjoy this life

I choose to dive in to my job

I choose to be optimistic about discernment

I choose to laugh

I choose to cry openly

I choose to relate to those around me

I choose to relax through busy times

I choose to focus on the task at hand

I choose to focus on the people talking to me

I choose to be awake

I choose to be positive

I choose to laugh

I choose to be joyful

I choose to be content with the things in my life

I choose to look forward to change

I choose to learn

I choose to listen

I choose to write

I choose to understand

I choose to be upbeat

I choose to love my friends

I choose to love my family

I choose to love all people

I choose to love God

I choose to love myself

I choose to learn from distractions

I choose to enjoy solitude

I choose to welcome and grow through criticism

I choose to be happy when others are critical

I choose to close my mouth and open my ears

I choose to explore

I choose to grow

I choose to hope

I choose to live

+Tom

Choices

I've been reading Rachel & Leah: Women of Genesis by Orson Scott Card. In it there's this conversation between Leah and a servant girl, Zilpah:

"I'm always happy," said Zilpah



"That's ridiculous," said Leah scornfully. "Nobody's always happy."



"I am."



"You have nothing to be happy about," said Leah. The girl was fatherless! She had no hope of a decent marriage.



"True," said Zilpah, "but I have dreams that make me happy. And besides, I don't have to have a reason. Being sad or angry won't make my situation any better, so I might as well be happy."



"You can't just decide to be happy."



"Why not? You decide to be angry whenever you want."

This reminded me of high school. It took a big of doing, but with the help of friends I convinced myself that I was worth a lot, that I was upbeat and someone who would be a great friend. Soon enough that decision became my reality.

Today I began thinking about the choices I make regarding my feelings and opinions. Any time I began to be irritated or frustrated I said "I choose to smile about this." Another time I saw another car I'd considered which would get me better gas mileage and simply said "I choose to be happy with the car I have." My whole day has lightened and I'm finding that the things which used to irritate me just fell away. I felt in control of every aspect of life.

I guess the question is this.

Since we walk together with God, how do you choose to react to the world around you?

How do you choose to feel?

Peace,

+Tom

Real People

I just found out about the service called Bringo. I have to admit, I haven't tried it yet. Just the idea though is pretty amazing.

Here's a service which lists companies you may call, calls them for you, navigates the phone tree and calls you back when there is someone on the phone. I can't tell you how many phones calls for laptop tech support I've had to deal with, I can't tell you how frustrating it is to contact HP (alas, HP still isn't in the list).

It just impresses me that companies are finally figuring out how to seamlessly integrate computers with telephone and other communication. Services like Grand Central (which I still love using), Twitter (which I will likely never use for the sheer uselessness factor) and Bringo really understand how to integrate the Web with telecommunication to actually improve the life of people in practical ways. That I can click a link on the Web and get a phone call a few minutes later with exactly the person I want to talk to… pretty useful.

So, whenever you need to get a hold of a real person, give this a try.

Peace,

+Tom

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

To Whistle

Princess Rachel and Ms. Duck were the best of friends. Ms. Duck could fly and sometimes she would run and begin flapping her wings and swoop around the sky. Then she'd come down and Rachel would grab onto her lags and they would fly around together. The ground was so far away and they would soar over forests, oceans and all over.

One day Princess Rachel and Ms. Duck were walking through the woods. They passed trees and bushes. They saw a fox run by one time and a big deer pass a little later. They also saw lots and lots of birds.

There were bluebirds and red robins. There were blue jays and hawks and even eagles. They saw chickens and roosters, geese and wrens. There was every kind of bird you can imagine.

All of the birds sang their different songs. Some went tweet, tweet and others went cluck, cluck. They heard a twitter, twitter and even a cock-a-doodle-doo.

Duck called back to the birds one time, whistling a tweet, tweet that sounded just like a bird call. Rachel blew out a big breath… But there was no whistle.

Sadly Rachel turned to Duck and said sadly, "I don't know how to whistle".

Duck looked at Rachel and said, "Well then, we'll just HAVE to teach you".

Ms. Duck ran around calling all of the birds together. Each and every one of the birds in the forest came out. They saw woodpeckers and doves, ravens and hummingbirds. Every bird they could think of. They even saw two cows come up named Ernie and Bert. They had a red bird and a blue jay on their heads.

Everyone formed a big circle with Rachel and Duck in the middle. Duck explained the problem. "Rachel can't whistle" she said.

All of the birds were very concerned and wanted to do whatever they could to teach Rachel how to whistle like they can. So they all sang out their special songs. Rachel heard a lot of tweet, tweet sounds, some hum, hum and shaweee, shaweee. She even heard a caw, caw and a ribbit. But that one wasn't a bird at all. It was a frog who had come along for the ride.

Rachel listened to all of the different sounds. She tried again, opened her mouth a little and blew!

But nothing happened. Air was the only thing that came out.

Then the cows gave it a try. They called out to Rachel and said "Moo, Moo, you need to keep your lips toogether".

This made very good sense, so Rachel pursed her lips together and tried another time. She blew as hard as she could.

But all that come out was more air. "Oh" Rachel said sadly. "I wonder if I'll ever learn to whistle."

Then she heard something, slither, slither. Down on the ground was a small worm. Rachel leaned down and scooped him up. It was Slimy the worm.

Rachel and Duck explained to Slimy that they'd tried everything, but Rachel still couldn't whistle.

Slimy said "I know just what to do, hold me close to your ear." Rachel held Slimy close to her ear and listened closely. Whisper, whisper, whisper, whisper.

"Ah, ha!" Rachel understood now. She put Slimy back on the ground, put her lips together, moved her tongue and blew.

She made the most beautiful whistle that anyone had ever heard. She sounded just like the birds.

She was so excited that she invited everyone back to her house for dinner. They had a great dinner and all went up to Rachel's room to bed. The birds rested all over her bed while the two cows, Ernie and Bert, lay down at the foot of the bed.

It was a wonderful day.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Richmond Hill

I just returned from a discernment retreat in Richmond, Virginia. While the retreat was great, it wasn't what I want to focus on. I really want to focus on the Richmond Hill Retreat Center in Richmond where we stayed. At first I wasn't incredibly impressed; it's an older building in the middle of Richmond, Virginia. So there are no sprawling meadows or vast mountains to climb. Instead there's a gorgeous garden with two small Koi ponds (real fish so it's a Koi pond, right?), lots of old trees and some gorgeous flowers.

The view from that garden? Smoke stacks, train tracks and a freeway. Plus I loved the deep ditch between the garden and the brick wall; it was exactly like the pit they put in lion cages at the zoo so they can't climb out.

When I got the information about the center it mentioned bringing a robe because they have communal showers and bathrooms. Of course I was thinking of big open gym showers. Instead it's not nearly as bad. They have four bathrooms on the floor shared by about 8 rooms. But it's all private, so that was pretty nice.

If I were to have any complaint it'd be that it was freaking hot the first two days, up into the low 90's. I like it cool, and I love it pretty cold at night. As we all asked for the air conditioning to be turned on, the answer was essentially (though gently), "no". In the end it wasn't too terrible since I was up ridiculously late and could barely keep my eyes open when I rolled into bed. But man, should the focus be on the attendees/customers?

Really though, what Richmond Hill exceeds at is hospitality. The food was pretty amazing for a retreat center. Unfortunately, though I tried to get them to buy us all steak it never worked out. They made up for it though by having big old tubs of both buttered and unbuttered popcorn in a common room at 9:30 each night.

The people there are just amazing. Both those on the retreat, the people in Richmond and the workers of the center. Friday night I was pretty exhausted, but went down to the common room for some popcorn. I flopped in a sofa and proceeded to talk to their food director (I can't remember the real title) for over an hour. He's just an amazing guy from California who got to Richmond via Japan, London and New York. He loves to make some interesting and unique meals for people while also working in a church and hoping to express his art.

Saturday I was even more exhausted from not sleeping well the night before (see the A/C concern above) and headed down for a small cup of popcorn. I ended up sitting with some retreat attendees, the same food coordinator, and a couple who recently moved into the center with a commitment to service and becoming a part of the community around them. These two are buying a house so that they can open it up for meals and companionship to the families in their low income community. They also work as worship leaders at a local church where they are certainly in the racial minority (I mean, they are the only two Caucasians in an all black church). It has nothing to do with race or trying to break down those specific walls, it's all about their commitment to Christ and helping others find his love. Needless to say, all of us were up until 11:45.

Also Saturday while walking around downtown Richmond and being blissfully lost I stumbled upon the Fountain Bookstore. I stopped in and immediately saw some signed books by John Scalzi, a Sci-Fi author whose blog I've been following the past few weeks. Turns out he did his Richmond book signing there; I was just a few days too late. It was ok though, I bought a bunch of stuff (don't tell my wife) and ended up talking to the check-out lady (are women that are graduating college kids, girls or ladies, or am I just too old now that everyone is a kid?) for over 10 minutes. She's an amazingly interesting person who is passionate about drama and history, heading up to Maryland to be with her boyfriend and start a teaching career.

I went to bed both nights feeling a closeness to these strangers that I hadn't found since my Mississippi mission trip. I only wish I'd gotten all of their contact information.

I arrived at the center wondering what I'd gotten myself into. I left wanting everyone else to get into it too.

Peace,

+Tom

Ready, Set, Go!

I just returned from a discernment retreat in Richmond, Virginia. The purpose of the retreat was for people who are thinking about going into ministry full time to understand the process of the Episcopal Church to figure out where God is really calling each of us. It was an incredibly informative weekend with a great balance between information about the process and getting able to experience some of the practices I'll be using as I go through the process.

For example, we spent Saturday morning getting a whole bunch of paper and walking through exactly what the different options are and how you go through the process to be a lay leader, deacon or a priest (the presentation included what each of those means, thank goodness). Then the afternoon was all about silence and beginning to get our minds in line with individual prayer with God to hear his calling (essentially what He wants us to do) for us. Sunday was more information about what to do over the next few months, followed up with a group discussion where we have some problem and an interesting way to find clarification and a solution. Essentially we have our problem, tell the group, and then the group can only ask questions to help me clarify what I'm thinking and what god's saying. It's pretty hard not to give advice.

All in all though, it was an amazing weekend, and I even missed huge technical problems at church, though my wife says if I'd been around they never would have happened. She's so supportive… Except she really bases it on superstition and not my own technical skill.

And now that it's over I've not got a title. I'm a seeker (unfortunately not one of those cool ones who fly around trying to catch snitches). I've officially heard the gun fire and I can work with our church community what God has planned for the rest of my life. I left that retreat with the incredibly strong sense of…

Ready…

Set…

GO!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Ignorance

I was finally able to put into words today something that's been floating in my head for a while. I don't know if this is because of my age or some other factors, but I've realized that I am acutely aware that I am incredibly ignorant. Here's what's gotten me to this realization.

For years I have been very sure that I understand the big picture and the ins and outs of things I'm interested in. For example, when it comes to Web development, the infrastructure or the Internet and even what's possible in programming the computer, I understand it. There is very, very, very little stuff that is "new" which is really new. The nuts and bolts make immediate sense and the only thing I wonder why someone hasn't done it before or why it is gaining traction this time when it didn't work before.

I also really understand problems. I'll generally listen to a problem and understand what's going on, to some extent. Wither they are technical problems, personal struggles, friendships, relationships or even personal conversation.

These are the thoughts that have gone through my head as I've grown up.

Now I'm recognizing that really, I don't know as much as I thought I did about any of that stuff. I don't know what problems a person is going through, I don't know everything about technology, I don't know how to relate to all people, and I certainly can't offer support and advice to help all of their problems.

What it comes down to is simply that I've figured out, I'm pretty ignorant about all that stuff. I no longer know everything about the stuff I'm interested in.

To be honest, it's kind of refreshing.

Here's to messing up, learning and change.

Peace,

+Tom

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Blog Backups

I am a HUGE fan of backing stuff up. For example, I have Mozy installed on all our PC's, so it backs everything up in pretty much real time (Carbonite was good, but I wanted something that would back up every file on my PC, and it won't do that). I also back up all our pictures to DVD every few months. I also put all my pictures on flickr as a final backup and so friends and family can see what I have.

So, imagine my excitement to find out there's Blog Backup Online a free service (up to 50 MB, which is a TON when it only backs up text) out there that will back up my blogs. I only have one active, but there are two others I'd love to have stored some place other than Blogger and Wordpress. Speaking of which, anyone know how I can import my old blog posts into Blogger? This is possible in Wordpress, so have to think there's a tool which will do it for me somewhere.

I've just now started using it, and so far I'm really impressed. It was so easy to pick a blog (really you can back up any blog) and start a full backup (daily backups happen be default). Then I went to the dashboard and added my other inactive blogs (and set them to not back up daily). What I love is the amount of control I get and how simple this is.

Currently every blog post I've written over the past two years is in a Word file on my desktop. It's a pain to make sure the Word file and the blog post match, plus all that older stuff I don't have locally. Here it's a simple thing to put in our blog and it does all the work. Crazy sweet and I definitely recommend any of you blog writers out there try it out.

Peace,

+Tom

Teen Work

No, not team work, though I love how it all rhymes.

As I watch the teens around me get jobs, I'm a bit confused and concerned. Somehow they are getting the message that they need to work to make money, and to take whatever job pays the most.

This concerns me because they are at exactly the right stage of life to do whatever job they want to do. This is the time when they can test out different careers without it having any negative impact on their life, and with the safety net of family.

When I was in high school they had a strict rule (this is why I chose the school actually). After your first semester freshman year you HAD to have an internship. I was an elementary school teacher for two years, a classroom aide with my Spanish teacher (oddly, I stopped thinking she was a ridiculous, mean person then), read to a blind woman, taught a high school class, worked as a video camera operator and other things I can't even remember now. I also volunteered at a wildlife organization, mainly boxing and mailing pamphlets… That stunk.

When I first started leading youth group I was surprised and confused about why the kids were getting jobs in retail. Erin said that was just the way it was. I led a very odd life, most people get retail jobs because they can't get other work. They can't work at a Cable company, Internet provider, organization or whatever, the jobs just aren't there. While I never liked this answer, I generally moved on.

In the past few months though, I'm getting all convicted again. I think it's ridiculous that teens are doing jobs just to make money, instead of exploring their interests, or working in areas that meet their own interests.

One of our teens has been lifeguarding for a few years, loving the job because he can relax a bit but also interact a lot with people. That social part of it all drives him. Then there's another who is working at kids gym (like Little Gym, My Gym or whatever) because she is incredibly passionate about gymnastics. Yet another one is working at an adult gym that he frequents, because working out has really helped align his life (thankfully God is in there too).

Another teen is considering working at Little Gym because she loves dance so much, and they have dance classes for kids. This is in contrast to another girl who takes the same dance classes, and is working at Ledo's. Good work, don't get me wrong, but I know her passion is dance and people, not greeting/hosting.

I have to think that as parents and mentors to these teens, we can do better.

Whenever I hear someone say that there are no jobs open to an individuals' skills, I have to think they're nuts. I worked in cable TV and at an Internet Service Provider for years from elementary school through college. Erin keeps saying that "yeah, but you're weird." She's definitely right. But why can't everyone else be weird then?

Why can't the kid passionate about music get a job a Melodee Music or help an individual instructor track their papers and contact clients? Why can't someone interested in photography work as an assistant to a photographer (our photographer has his daughter and a friend working for him that way, and they seem to enjoy it). Why can't someone who loves to dabble in programming get a job at a development company (if even as an intern)? At my company (unfortunately we are no longer allowed to mention its name) we had high school teens working as Web developers on projects, and they got paid for it.

Now, I admit, for most people it's hard to get jobs like this. I mean, I have no contacts in the music world, and if someone asked me to help get them a job in the industry I'd have to send them to my friend Jess (except that she's stopped teaching too, some lazy excuse about having to go to school) or Daniel (an excelled drum teacher and who runs drum circles… crazy fun).

My point though, is that if you are interested and passionate about an area, you'll already have contacts. I love youth ministry and leading. I also happen to know a BUNCH of youth ministers, many of whom will take on interns (some paid, some not).

Our society has focused all people on the idea that if you have to work, you should work making money. Heck, if all you want is money, go work for Costco, they pay something like $10 an hour and treat all their employees incredibly well. Heck, one of our teens worked in the Pharmacy there for a while, partly because she is pretty passionate about becoming a pharmacist.

We need to drive teens toward companies and jobs which they care something about. It makes no sense to me that we would indoctrinate them into the harsh working world, where you work to make money, not to work your passion (I know many people don't do this, but most of us live this way) when they have a home and family to fall back on. They can have 30 jobs in 30 months and it will mean nothing on their resume after college.

I guess the question I have is this. What are you doing for your kid, to prepare them for their first job? What do you say to the kids who come up to you and tell you what they are doing? Do you listen politely, or challenge them to wonder whether they are in the job they're passionate about?

Peace,

+Tom

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Spending

Why is it that the people who have the least tend to be the ones taken most advantage of?

Over the past four months two family members and one friend have been scammed out of anywhere from $1,600 to $4,000 dollars. In two of the cases it was from a person calling them on the phone while the other was one friend scamming another. We're not talking about Internet scams or anything. Definitely check out the Better Business Bureau Web site before spending your money anywhere.

Since it's been hitting so close to home, I began thinking seriously about what we spend our money on. Here's what I've come up with.

Our money should go to the places that aren't asking for it.

There are billions and billions of people and organizations asking for our money. In my last examples all of the people scammed were approached by someone asking for a little money to help alleviate a larger debt, or for help by getting some money, then giving it to someone else. In each case someone is asking another person for money.

I have also dealt with people who have been in some tough times and asked directly for some financial help. In almost every case so far any help we provided did not get much of a thank you (not that I ever do it for my own gratitude) and seems to be a part of a bigger pattern.

Then I get to thinking about my consumer spending. You know, buying stuff from stores.

I get ads constantly in my mail box, e-mail and over the phone of people trying to sell me something. Marketing is all about convincing me that I need to buy their product. I have to get a new cell phone every year because the alternative is unthinkable. I need a new car because an older one is less safe or has higher repair bills. I need to get the latest game for my Wii because only owning one game is boring. I should go out to dinner since it's not much more expensive that grocery shopping, and has a much higher entertainment value.

In almost every case I come away with a purchase that feels ok, and few regrets. I'll enjoy it for a time, but 10 years later I won't even remember what it was I purchased.

Then there are the people and organizations that never ask for money (or not overtly). There are the free products you can get online, like Wikipedia, who only ask for a donation if you feel it is warranted. There are people who are hurting financially but will never ask for money, even if it means losing their homes.

Any time I have given to these groups or individuals, my entire life changes (even as most support is given anonymously). I feel like I am making a direct impact in their life and helping them sustain them. I know that God is working through me to help those He loves. Support like that always seems to end favorably and sticks in my mind for years and years. I still remember when we've gone and made lunches for the homeless and handed them out around the city from 20 years ago, I don't remember anything I've purchased from then (Maybe my Apple Newton, but that'd be making me look like a geek, and even that was only 15 years ago).

Maybe if I supported people who didn't ask for it more often, it wouldn't affect me as much. I'm the last to be an example of giving and helping others, I think I can count the number of times on one hand that I've helped someone (physically or monetarily) in the past year.

I can say though, every time I've helped someone else, I've changed. My life has been helped as well. I can feel God's arms grow a little tighter around me.

What's the point of this ridiculously long post? Simply this.

When is the last time you helped someone who didn't ask for it? Why not do it today?

Peace,
+Tom

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

String Theory

I was watching Heroes this morning (gotta love TiVo) and one of the first things we see is a huge mess of strings crossing back and forth, filling up an apartment. On each string are pictures of newspaper clippings, photos and handwritten notes. When you look at it, initially it's a jumbled mess. A little later it all gets explained.

Each string is a persons' life. The notes and photos are key events in that persons' life. The strings are arranged in a way which shows how each life intersects with someone else's life.

In the end it makes for a huge display of an entire community.

We can see how the community is connected, where their lives moved together and where they separated. We can see all of the events of an individuals' life, or that of the entire community.

When you think about it, this would be a pretty amazing representation of life.

I wonder what it would look like if I built this string based on my friendships. What if we built it for everyone at work, or in our church?

Our entire lives are made up of the people we surround ourselves with. Our most important history is defined by our actions with other people and with God.

I wonder what my string would look like, and whether there would be a lot of intersections with others.

Peace,

+Tom

Good Starts

Yesterday morning Rachel and I decided to let Colin and Erin sleep in and relax into the day. So we headed out to Robeks and had Smoothies together. We talked about how sunny it was, how the smoothies tasted, something Ms. Mary Lee taught war in school yesterday, that a friend hurt her but Rachel was a "good" friend and told her "that wasn't nice, don't do it again!" That one was my favorite, by far.

Really though we just watched people come and go, chatted a little, and enjoyed the morning. It was one of the best mornings I've ever had. It made the entire rest of the day seem almost inconsequential. If there was any problem or anything changed what I'd had planned (like that I worked 6 hours instead of my planned 1.5) it just didn't matter.

Yesterday wasn't a particularly good or special day overall. Starting it off so well… Now the entire day feels incredibly memorable.

How we start the day defines how we live the rest of it.

Peace,

+Tom