my #EatThisBook 2012 Twitter habit

This year, the church I attend with my family has been encouraging biblical literacy and spiritual formation through a daily habit of Bible reading. The Eat This Book discipline is a bold initiative, even for evangelicals. Bolder still is the Eat This Book challenge to read through the Bible in 360 days. The Advent issue of the church magazine included a number of cool stories from the experience. Mine’s not there, not typical and definitely more geeky than most. But who aspires to be average?

My family and I are relatively new to Blackhawk, though we’ve lived in Madison six years. Dy and I are both on staff with InterVarsity and have served together on campus, in a field office, at a retreat and training center and now at the organization’s National Service Center. We’ve enjoyed comparing notes as we Eat This Book.

I’ve read through the Bible before a couple of different ways and looked forward to doing it again, especially with such a large community. I appreciate the posted resources related to the initiative, and it’s been exciting to hear of 38,000+ using the plan on YouVersion (not my favorite Bible app). I’ve not participated in much of the online interaction, though. It seems to me that platform is still in its infancy compared to its potential for promoting biblical literacy through genuinely personal interaction.

To make time and space for digesting the daily text and meditating on it throughout the day, I adopted the practice of tweeting a summary of the non-psalm chapters. For example, one of this fall’s tweets was:

Luke 8-9: Jesus leads and sends a mixed, missional community. They recognize Messiah, but not the path he pursues. +Ps 120 #EatThisBook #fb

A few others use the #EatThisBook hashtag on Twitter; evidently there’s an unrelated Bible study course by that title. A few of the most recent tweets are visible. Mine appear for Facebook friends and are backed up online and offline.

It’s helpful when studying shorter passages to title natural paragraphs in scripture with a few words arising from the text, as part of observing their main features. It’s more challenging to puzzle through the connections within a couple of chapters or more – not always naturally divided – to a summary that fits in 100 characters. But it’s also been tremendously fruitful when God’s Spirit brings insight as things begin to add up. It often takes until evening to sufficiently mull over the collection of themes, characters, actions read or heard in the morning.

As with any spiritual discipline or new habit, it’s most doable when it connects with multiple parts of our personalities and experiences. This one has hooks in my problem-solving bent, enjoyment of complex systems (and text) analysis, amateur wordsmithing, and (borderline Asperger’s) symbiosis with a smartphone. It also helps me practice brevity – not one of my strengths, as you can tell from the length of this post. Thus a daily opportunity to aim for what my team director describes as “crispness” while trying to avoid sounding terse.

I also read aloud the psalm most mornings while some of our family drives to school or work. There are sometimes shared themes between the psalm and the other texts, if I’m alert. Between those times and the tweets, I’ve sensed the Lord renewing my thinking about both the big themes of scripture and the particulars that don’t seem to fit very neatly.

For example, it’s been instructive for me to hear in some of Jesus’ sayings not-so-faint echoes of the prophets’ occasionally harsh words of stinging rebuke. Feeling something of the emotional life of God has been a fresh theme that’s stood out in many passages that I can no longer read without a more whole and human response.

All this to say that I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring more of myself to scripture, reinforce the daily pattern of meeting God in his Word, give space for the Spirit to speak, exercise summarizing skills, and in a bite-sized way sharing the insights God gives. Eat This Book has built my awareness of the overall arc of scripture’s Story. I’m being better equipped to live into and communicate the rich texture and content of God’s whole, living Word.

Thanks for reading, and let me know if any of this is worth further interaction for you.


Making New Blogs With Dad

Today Dad, AJ, and I are making blog accounts together.  AJ chose Blogger and I chose WordPress after an extensive long period of looking over the many blogging sites and reviewing the different qualities of the following sites: Blogger, WordPress, Picasa, and Photoshop.  Listening to Dad sometimes gets boring, but it was a little fun to know what all the other sites have out there.

soothing sounds of customer dissatisfaction

This is not one of the more important things going on around here, but it was somewhat sad and amusing.

Earlier this month we ganged together an order for two small computer-related accessories – one for us and one for a friend. The items arrived and I put ours to use and passed along the other. Our friend discovered when they went to use it that their unit had been packaged so as to conceal a manufacturing fault. The plastic part looked as if it had been scuffed forcefully against a sharp metal edge, and I couldn’t tell if the damage was more than cosmetic. (There were even bits of mud on the opposite side, as if from the scuffer’s shoe.)

So I called the manufacturer (who will go unnamed), from whom we’d purchased directly. A very mellow guy answered and guided me through the return authorization process to the point where we were awaiting the ticket number.

I should mention I was multitasking a bit, supervising two kids at their homework, so my attention was somewhat divided. As I reengaged the phone call, I realized what I was hearing: snores. This continued for a long moment as I considered the reality and pondered how to respond. Finally, after several attempts to jump-start the conversation over about a minute, the agent resumed without any indication he was aware he’d been napping.

I’ve spent lots of hours on hold, receiving or offering technical support, or navigating customer service. This is the first time someone’s gone to sleep on me by phone. When I called back to speak with a call center supervisor, I was told they’re based in the Philippines, so it was an early morning hour there.

Another recent discovery is where one can create custom parodies of motivational posters. The photo above, taken of the kids years ago as a joke, finally came in handy.

About ready for a nap myself – j

live as I type

Rather than the typical time-delayed post, this one is in as real a time as I can manage. My usual device for typing is has no Wi-Fi to (legally, consistently) connect to at the house, and my attempts to enable Internet Connection Sharing under Windows 2000 this afternoon failed due to an IP address conflict with the ISP-provided router. The router has wireless built in but I’ve never been able to get it to provide a connection as an access point. But you don’t need or want to hear these minor complaints.

But while I’m griping, here’s a bit more: The old middle back is feeling it from leaning over to spray bleach solution under the deck – on top of the drilling regimen this morning. Did I mention that we’ve been soaking a foot or two up and away from the wall around the outside of the house each week or so to try to persuade earwigs from wandering inside. I’m told it’s been helping, and it’s worth it not to be asked by Arey to squish a few when I’m already in bed and she’s decided to go downstairs to head that way.

Okay, enough of that. The lunch salad was delicious. Non-essential but very welcome ingredients: bleu cheese dressing, sunflower seeds and cracker crumbs.

My goal this session is to upload and embed at least one photo so this blog can begin to get a facelift. The template is nice, but I can save a lot of typing since a picture is worth… Actually, a few screen shots in my most recent illustrated how-to article for coworkers (Outlook to Word mail merge contacts to labels, nothing too exciting) did save several dozen words. I knew it was coming when my developing text said something about the eleventh (!) button from the left on a toolbar – and had to describe which toolbar.

Okay, I’ve begun the Blogger FAQ article “How do I post pictures?” and things look hopeful. Am I going to say to my self, “Why didn’t I get this before?” when I’m done? The prompt for an actual image reminds me I have several that need to be cropped…back in a minute.

Okay, that was more than a minute. The GIMP is my (and Arey’s) tool of choice, BTW. I’m still finding my way around 2.x, as they made the menuing more consistent. Nothing digital corrects a smudged lens, tho.

After three times following the instructions and clicking the Done button…it’s still not done it. Of course I can post them to and insert HTML tags, or use Picasa, flickr, etc. – but this is nuts. Calling it a day – j

havin’ a garage sale now

8:10 a.m.: Our esteemed first customer is browsing the various offerings of our first Madison garage sale. Signs went up at both ends of the street last night. A.J. is set to sell cups of lemondade from his wagon near the sidewalk, while the rest of our wares are spread along both sides of the driveway on makeshift tables. (The most creative one of these involves two garbage cans, a couple of short boards, plywood a coworker was discarding, and beach towels.) She’s been quite conversational, asking A.J. about his favorite things to do. He just carried her purchases across the street to her vehicle, and is filling her bottle. I hope our coworkers don’t mind paying ten cents for the “cool sips” promised in the daily office announcements email.

Dy suggests doing something of value – not blogging – to make the morning count. Can’t mow, but I do need to trim some branches back from touching the roof, and earwigs are wandering past the bleach solution I need to refresh around the outside of the house. She’s begun a litany of reasons she doesn’t do garage sales:

  • You spend lots of time pricing things and setting them out to sit around for hours just to make $20.
  • You have to watch people slow down their cars as they pass along the street, deciding by the barest glance whether or not to stop and see more.

Despite the frequent traffic and the almost constant blasts of roofers a block over, a dark mouse made itself heard poking around the corner of the garage. Dy is not impressed, but it stopped the litany.

Two more customers drop by, a guy who must know what he’s looking for and doesn’t see it here, and a neighbor we met when cutting down our hedge last Saturday. We marvel again at the timing of that exploit, with the city brush trucks arriving just as we finished. Arey’s jewelry is attracting some attention now, as she shares a trick with an admirer.

The neighbor’s expecting her roof replaced in coming weeks as well, so she and Dy are comparing roofing companies with similar insights. After an April hailstorm across the area, an estimated 30,000 households in Madison are anticipating roof replacement. Sample hailstones I retrieved from the back yard melted later by accident, but I’d swear they were up to 2.5 inches in diameter. Insurance is covering the vast majority of the costs, but just the building permits should pump millions into city coffers at $150 a pop. The staccato of air-fired nails must be music to some ears.

More neighbors and customers are trickling through. A.J. is wandering around waving a sign advertising “A.J.’s Store.” Arey makes her third sale, surpassing all other departments combined so far. T. has set herself up as cashier for A.J. and the general merchandise, quickly and correctly computing correct change. One of her classmates from this past year shows up with extended family, so we get to tentatively practice some Spanish.

If we had a boom box out here, it would be playing Pat Terry from his 1983 album Film at Eleven – either “Yard Sale” or “Fighting Like Cats and Dogs.” Had to pause typing to help finish the doughnuts, a special treat from last night’s lemonade supplies run. Dy announces again that this is the last garage sale she’ll do; next time, the kids are on their own. Between moves and the outgrowing of clothes, seems we’re frequently downsizing as a household – aiming to travel lightly in a number of ways.

Between visitors, several of us test the limits of this Bluetooth keyboard. Now the kids are trying to see how far a drooping branch will loft one of them after the other two pull it further down. There will be less branch to trim as a result. And lots of those little green hopping bugs are wondering how to find their way from the grass back to their preferred aerial habitat.

Later: We ended before lunch, with time to clean up, bag the majority of stuff going on to Goodwill, take down signs and visit a more serious garage sale at least a block north. Managed to split the remaining earnings equitably over lunch, after setting some aside to benefit others. Now it’s on to cleaning…or delaying it by posting this. – j

GrrAnimals for grrown-ups

Who says guys don’t ask for help? For years I asked for – and received – expert advice from my wife and eldest daughter on the subject of which work clothes match. Now that I have returned to an office environment for most days, it’s again no longer as simple as camp attire (jeans with layers of shirts). At least four days a week I try for something like business casual; Fridays are more informal, at least on one of my teams. (Most members of the other team are fairly laid back the whole week.)

But no more. No more asking, that is. About five years ago, I was informed the free advice would no longer be available, as the experts had better things to do. If I couldn’t remember from week to week what shirts went with which pants, that was my own problem. Since I couldn’t, it was.

Several streams of interest and preference converged to bring about a solution to this shortfall in color coordination (one of several types of coordination I lack):

(1) Being an oddly sized fellow, and having already trimmed my office-eligible wardrobe by long wear, I had no desire to further reduce the range of combinations to what would fit my memory capacity for such content.

Say, to only two pair of pants and four shirts.

To say nothing of the midweek laundry which would be required – but disallowed for so small a load. (I would not be entrusted with most others’ clothes to combine with mine, for understandable reasons upon which will not be elaborated here.)

(2) Not wishing to embarrass my significant others by my continually poor choices, I sought a means for extending my memory and capturing their expertise. A label matching system (animal-related or otherwise) would give them private amusement, which there’s enough of already at my expense.

(3) As a database-friendly sort with a (now ancient) Pocket PC for early morning use, I pretty quickly hit upon the idea of a sortable list of acceptable combinations. After some convincing that it would be the final such regular request, it took less than an hour of their time for me to build the essential guide to both short- and long-sleeve seasons.

Oddly enough, after returning to active use this year, that ListPro database has usually proven unnecessary. Or rather, it’s shown its worth as I’ve somehow internalized all of its most commonly deployed matches.

Or maybe it was in me all along, only awaiting middle-age to draw out some sense of taste.

Nope, that’s not it. Definitely not that.

While I’m thinking of the reduced wardrobe, has anyone else read George I. Mavrodes‘ out-of-print InterVarsity Press booklet, “The Salvation of Zachary Baumkletterer”? It was a short story that caught my attention and taught me about thinking well outside the box, even dangerously. Maybe the author would permit it to be republished online – or adapted for a new generation. [Whether or not the author has permitted it, the story does now appear online in rough form. Skip down a few paragraphs for the start of it. – ed. 2009]

Not for a movie, though. I’d rather see The Hobbit hit the big screen in a form to which I can take my under-twelves – while they’re still under twelve. Once again, we’ve recently been enjoying Tolkien’s folksy, intimate and occasionally humorous tone. The dwarves’ clean-up song at Bilbo’s unexpected party still dissolves A.J. into belly chuckles. Perhaps the effect is amplified by his own regular dish-clearing responsibilities. – j

confessions of a TVaholic

The fellow who installed our broadband a few weeks ago was only momentarily incredulous. I was shadowing him since I’ve never witnessed a DSL install, and due to some non-standard telephone wiring we inherited with the home…which I will do no more than mention.

In the middle of narrating his progress, he noticed the satellite antenna near the middle of our back yard. His company handles that service too, he allowed. I wondered aloud if there’s a market for the used hardware, since we don’t have a TV.

“Internet but no TV?” he queried, understandably puzzled.

Sheepishly I admitted, “Yep, I’m a media addict. I wouldn’t be able to ingore the audio and visuals enough to give attention to those who live here. We get what we need from the radio or the web.”

“Well, you don’t miss much.” After days full of troubleshooting by phone or wire-to-wire, he unplugs on the way in the door: no phone, no TV for a good while. I think my teammates who cover helpdesk can definitely understand that impulse.

More recently, the Olympics tested out reliance on the web for multimedia. Sometimes in the past we’ve borrowed a TV to catch more of the action. (One mid-90s ad has borne extensive repetition: “Are you gonna eat the pickle?”) Instead, we huddled around the PC several evenings after supper to catch the previous days’ events in summary or some detail. The figure skating and snowboard cross jumps were a little extra jumpy, but we made it.

For similar reasons to my TVaholism, we still managed to avoid adding a cell phone (or two) to our household. It’s not just that we’re cheap – though that’s part of it. Broadband bundled with local phone service can be insanely inexpensive. A cut-rate cardless long distance “card” keeps us connected to friends and family as long as they ignore the caller ID readout from New York. That’s before even exploring VoIP.

It’s that we know our weaknesses. Mine isn’t the urge to gab…I’ll let you guess who saw the wisdom of not setting us up for more than we needed in wireless telecom.

So we won’t be posting about favorite TV shows, and we feel fairly ignorant of most of those we’ve heard about through the past decade or more. Not sure all the resulting space in our brains has been occupied with everything most worthwhile, but it is interesting to observe (and sometimes intervene) the pull each of us experiences toward the books from which we’ve learned so much about what really matters.

Going to read something more worthwhile, and hoping you get to do the same – j

the best computer guy in the world

A.J. and I both had decent days today, we discovered before dinner. He focussed on his work and made steady headway for Ms. K. I celebrated with him this answer to one of my prayers of the morning.

I confided that my other goal for the day was also met: getting the computer I use at the office to run the HR database. The vendor said it couldn’t be done with the versions of software coexisting on the PC. As I told A.J., I talked with the vendor, went to a meeting, missed the vendor’s call back, tried the last resort suggested, and it still didn’t work. I prayed, tried another registry hack – and it worked!

“Of course, because you’re the best computer guy in the world,” was A.J.’s. assessment.

“Can I get that in the other ear?” was my Eyeoreism.

Definitely NOT the best computer guy – tho I know some folk who qualify – j