Saturday, September 24, 2016

We Are Weak But He Is Strong

Karl Barth is widely considered the most profound and influential Protestant theologian of the entire twentieth century, and maybe even in all of modern Christianity. Pope Pius XII called him the most important Christian theologian since St. Thomas Aquinas. Karl Barth was to twentieth century theology what Billy Graham was to evangelism and more. Both made the cover of Time Magazine due to the extraordinary impact of their Christian faith on mainstream culture.

A couple of decades ago a pastor friend of mine found out I was reading Barth when I started pelting him with questions at our regular breakfast meet ups. Barth's theology is not only profound, but quite complex. It can make your head hurt, and I wanted this pastor, who had the benefit of formal seminary training, to help me understand the complexities of Karl Barth.

He asked me if I knew Karl Barth's most profound truth about God. I got a little excited because I thought I was about to be enlightened with some amazing new truth that would open my mind to the vistas of God's grandeur. This pastor friend was a bit of a jokester, and I sat on the edge of my seat in anticipation of some new nugget of truth as he started singing in a quiet voice...

"Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tell me so..."

I was so disappointed. I may have even accused him of lying because at that point in my life I was considering going to seminary. I was so hungry for the deep truths of God that I was upset about hearing the great Karl Barth's most profound truth was in the child's song "Jesus Loves Me." I didn't believe him, but this apocryphal story is all over the place. It might actually be true, but it doesn't really matter. Even if the great Karl Barth didn't say this, the fact remains that the most profound truth about God is the love of God.

I turned 49 yesterday, and I still don't think I understand the love of God. Jesus told us all of God's laws can be summed up in two commands that both involve love. (1) Love God, and (2) love other people. If all of us got that right the world would be a very different and better place. I'm still working on that simple but surprisingly deep truth. I don't fully grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge as the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 3, and lately I'm realizing this child's song has even more theological depth further along in the first stanza. The next two lines are mind blowing too.

"Little ones to him belong, they are weak but He is strong..."

One of the most read articles on this blog is The Paradox Principle. "We are weak, but He is strong" is yet another paradox to add to the list. When you're a little kid, you don't have any power. Everyone is bigger and stronger, and you have no say. Everyone else tells you what to do, but as we grow up we get more power. Those of us of the male persuasion are particularly proud about our accomplishments and achievements because we are no longer weak. Now we are strong.

I go to the gym to get strong. The meat heads at my gym prance around in their testosterone induced states showing their strength. I used to watch a lot of UFC fights and go to an MMA gym because I enjoyed watching displays of strength, and I too wanted to be invincible. The modern American male myth is the independent, indestructible, self-reliant rugged individual. And it is a myth. Real men are like Jesus.

Real men love, and real men are weak. If you pay attention, the verse doesn't say Jesus makes me strong. Jesus is the strong one. I could try to impress you with my Bible knowledge of how Paul taught this paradoxical truth in 2 Corinthians 12, but I'm no Karl Barth. Even then, if someone had asked Karl about the second most profound truth about God, I think he might have just kept on singing "Jesus Loves Me."

Saturday, September 03, 2016

A Rose By Any Other Name

My spiritual journey has been a bit circuitous. I was raised in a Christian home, but left the faith during my young adult years. It wasn't an intentional or unusual apostasy. Lots of kids who grow up in fundamentalist Christian homes leave the faith during their young adult years. Many of them never return. I've blogged elsewhere about that (here and here) including my return to Christianity as a young parent seeking answers on what I should teach my sons about God.

Earlier this year, my wife and I entered a new life stage. We're empty nesters now, and my spiritual journey has entered a new stage as well. During the years I raised my boys, I leaned pretty hard toward a Calvinist view of God. Sadly, this led to parenting behaviors and unintended consequences I greatly regret. I was pretty much a "command and control" dad, and I believe a lot of that was a result of my view of God being "command and control" too. I was reflecting what I now believe to be an errant view of the Father. This is a good example of how an errant view of God has personal consequences in the lives and relationships of people who love one another. I was pursuing God sincerely, but I was wrong. Good theology matters.

I believe deeply that the God of the Bible is a loving father who enters into relationships with his children. He is not unaffected by our choices. In theological terms, God is not impassible. And at the risk of my Calvinist friends accusing me of heresy, I also doubt God is immutable in the strict Calvinist sense. As the petals of the Calvinist TULIP started to fall away in my theology, starting with Limited Atonement, my heart longed to understand God theologically the way God interacts with me personally and experientially. At just the right time, I re-discovered Greg Boyd and Open Theism.

I say re-discovered, because I first learned of Greg Boyd a number of years ago when I was reading The Irrational Atheist by Vox Day, but I had other interests at that time and was not open to Open Theism. Back in April, I gave a copy of Vox's book to an atheist friend who shortly thereafter posted some irrational comments during a friendly but spirited Facebook discussion. When it became clear he never read the book, I pulled out my copy of Vox and gave him the references. I saw Vox's references to Greg Boyd again which reminded me how I never really dug into the open view of the future, known as Open Theism.

There is more to the backstory including a couple of dreams I've had recently about the nature of time and God's foreknowledge. These bizarre dreams included experiences in the Star Trek holodeck, and I woke up somewhat obsessed in solving some open questions in my mind regarding the nature of time. Reading Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos before going to bed may have had something to do with that. Another part of the backstory is a new Facebook friendship with a formerly atheist astrophysicist turned Christian whose blog I love.

These serendipitous events have left me deeply engrossed in exploring Open Theism. I'm sure some of my "fundie" Christian friends of the Calvinist stripe will think I'm a heretic. Greg Boyd had to deal with a lot of blowback back in the early 1990s when he popularized it, including John Piper trying to ruin his life. (And I say that as a big John Piper fan.) I greatly respect William Lane Craig (WLC), and he disagrees with Boyd too. I've spent a lot of time looking into WLC's Molinist view of middle knowledge, and when my brain doesn't cramp up thinking about it, his view makes some rational sense to me, but Open Theism just smells right to me.  I'm still on the journey, but this time I'm going to take my time and smell the roses before I come to any hard conclusions.

The Calvinists have their TULIP, but I'm starting to reject that in favor of the ROSE of Open Theism.

The ROSE Acronym

R - Responsibility (Libertarian Freewill) -- God has granted free agents significant freedom and responsibility to make moral choices for which they are culpable and upon which at least part of the future hangs. The choices of free agents effect others, the future, and God.

O - Openness --God knows all of reality as it is. In the scriptural 'Motif of Future Openness,' God speaks of and knows the possible, future choices of free agents as possibilities. God allows the future to remain open to the extent God chooses. Therefore, the future is partly open.

S - Sovereignty -- God knows all of reality as it is. In the scriptural 'Motif of Future Determinism,' God speaks of and knows the certainties that God will carry out in God's own power as certainties. God determines the future to the extent God chooses. Therefore, the future is partly composed of certainties.

E - Emotion -- God is Love. God is affected by the choices of free agents. God responds to free agents. God changes God's mind and plans in response to free agents. God is the most moved mover. It is God's desire to extend the intense love that God has always shared in the Trinity to the creatures God created forever. Christ is the perfect revelation of who God is, even in his emotions.

The ROSE Acronym (© 2007 T. C. Moore)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Book Review: Flash Boys

Flash Boys is the amazing true story about High Frequency Trading (HFT) which came about when stock trading switched from an activity done between people to an activity done between computers. What most people think about when you mention Wall Street stock trading are guys in a pit wearing colored jackets yelling at one another as they trade stock. That is fiction. The reality is it is all automated, and this has created a new class of players who can take advantage of the system by being very fast and very smart.

Michael Lewis weaves together a very readable story reminiscent of his great storytelling in books like Moneyball, Liar’s Poker, and The New New Thing which are all books I've enjoyed and recommend. Truth can be stranger than fiction, and Lewis is a master craftsman in telling stories about how what we believe to be true isn’t the whole truth and maybe not even the truth at all. 

Reality is not what you think it is. I learned this as a physics student back in the late 1980s. I thought I was smart, but it all came crashing down when trying to wrap my mind around Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. I’ll never forget the day it happened. Kip Matthews and I were meeting with Dr. Wolfgang Rindler on a field trip to University of Texas at Dallas. Our physics professor from Austin College had set up the meeting because we were using Rindler’s text for our senior level class. It was an “advanced topics” class, and it was a chance to meet the guy who wrote our text book. 

On that day with Dr. Rindler, it became very clear to me that there were people in the room who really understood what we were talking about, but I was not among them. Reality was far more complex and weird than I ever expected, and my prideful desire to “know it all” had reached its end. I did not understand, and I wasn’t going to. My brain had reached its upper bound. Kip went on to graduate studies at University of Chicago in Medical Physics, and he is quite possibly one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. I realized my dream of pursuing theoretical or high energy PhD level physics was a pipe dream. 

I ended up pursuing a career in software technology, and reading Flash Boys once again taught me I’m not as smart as I think I am. There are computer technologists out there who are far smarter (and faster!) than I am even though I’ve spent 25 years in the computer software industry and have a basic grasp of high speed networking including the underlying physics. Flash Boys showed me yet again that reality is not what I think it is. 

If you invest in the stock market, and particularly if you’re a professional money manager, I’d suggest this is a must read book. If you think you are smarter and faster and can consistently beat the market, you’re fooling yourself. Reality is not what you think it is either, and you’d be wise to consider carefully the risks and hidden tax from HFT and the Flash Boys.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Course Corrections vs. Adjustments

Professionally, I'm a software technologist who specializes in software development methods and practices. For the last few years, I've been focused on helping big companies with many small teams become more "agile" in the way they work. In doing this, I've noticed amazing similarities between the software development teams I interact with professionally, and the small communities of people I interact with personally outside of work, particularly discipleship groups of guys whom I meet with from time to time to pursue truth and do life together.

The small software development teams I coach professionally are very much like discipleship groups because they do life together too. We spend more waking hours at work than any other activity, so I want to be sure these teams are not just existing or merely tolerating their work lives as drudgery. I want them to thrive and have fun and be successful, the same things I want for my family and friends and whatever discipleship group I happen to be doing life with at any given time. One thing I've learned from both contexts is this: What we say to one another matters.

One of my favorite phrases is "words matter." How we speak and the words we choose can often convey unintended messages, and I was reminded of this by Mike Cohn who is the highly respected instructor I intentionally selected for my Certified Scrum Product Owner training. I'm on Mike's "tips" email list where he sends out weekly wisdom, and this morning the subject was "Stop Making Course Corrections." I read Mike's weekly tips because his wisdom often applies not only to my work life, but life in general. Mike's email today started out like this:
Hi Dennis,
I listened to a podcast this morning that mentioned the need to do course corrections. Then I read an article in Harvard Business Review, and it mentioned the importance of course corrections. Enough! We need to stop making course corrections.
No, I’m not saying we need to get it right the first time and know exactly what we’re building. In fact, I’m saying exactly the opposite. When someone says they are making a course correction that implies they are now on the correct course. It implies there IS a correct course. There isn’t. At least not one that is knowable in advance.
Instead of course corrections we make course adjustments. A subtle nudge to product direction here. A minor shift to the product strategy there. And here’s the key: We never know if those nudges and shifts are going to make the product better. Each is an educated guess. An adjustment rather than a correction.    ...
For about a year, I was in a very command and control oriented discipleship program led by a guy who is very talented at establishing vision and finding followers. It was mostly experimental, and I chaffed a lot under the leadership of this well intentioned guy who was leading it. But, I couldn't figure out why we locked horns until I got free from the heavy handed methods employed in his program. This guy liked to use the phrase "this is just a minor course correction" every time he was trying to get me to change behavior. The implicit message this sent, whether intended or not, was "My way is correct. Your way is incorrect. Do what I tell you, or this program is not for you."

Some of the younger guys in this group cowered under this leadership, and were frightened about being kicked out. The leader would talk about the guys who had not made it, and how they lost their once in a lifetime opportunity. I think this was a genuine effort to make us feel good about being in an elite, high-performing team, but the encouragement created fear similar to what my son in the US Air Force felt about being "recycled" if he failed a part of his bootcamp. But in this case, "recycling" wasn't an option. It was do or die, and "course corrections" meant, "It is my way or the highway."

Ultimately, after about a year, we decided this program was not for me, and I moved into another discipleship context that was a better fit for me at this life stage. We parted ways amicably, and what I learned is I do not thrive in command and control organizations. I prefer agile teams who share responsibility, hold one another accountable, and pursue a shared vision through respect and mutual accountability. A year after the start of this program, I saw one of the guys who left the group during the first few weeks. He's thriving and even leading people in another context.

I know from my corporate life that high performing teams cannot thrive long term under heavy handed command and control leadership from the top down unless you're in a culture like the military, and even the military is starting to learn about agile methods of leadership. True leaders don't try to control. They lead by seeking first to understand before being understood, and follow all those other Seven Habits too.

Mike Cohn's advice is to encourage people through course adjustments, and the word choice matters. Adjustments lead to a mutually discovered path toward freedom and creativity, and it also shows humility in listening to someone who might have different ideas about what adjustments are necessary. Only a prideful leader believes their way is the only way or absolute best way. So, I would join in with Mike by encouraging leaders to seek input and help the people under your leadership to engage in conversation around how to adjust course without coming at them with correction.

And if you do have a case when empirical evidence proves you correct and they are incorrect to the point of being in danger, admonishment should not be in the context of "a minor course correction" because in that case the word choice is weak and indirect. If someone is in danger, such as in a military firefight and about to be blown up, then give them a direct command, but don't tell them to make "a minor course correction." Choose your words carefully, because words matter.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

17 Laws I Never Learned In My Physics Studies

My physics degree is from Austin College in north Texas, but we never learned any of this in school.
  1. Law of Mechanical Repair - After your hands become coated with grease, your nose will begin to itch, and you'll have to pee.

  2. Law of Gravity - Any tool, nut, bolt, screw, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible place in the universe.

  3. Law of Probability - The probability of being watched is directly proportional to the stupidity of your act.

  4. Law of Random Numbers - If you dial a wrong number, you never get a busy signal; someone always answers.

  5. Variation Law - If you change lines (or traffic lanes), the one you were in will always move faster than the one you are in now.

  6. Law of the Bath  - When the body is fully immersed in water, the telephone will ring.

  7. Law of the Result - When you try to prove to someone that a machine or piece of software won't work, IT WILL!!

  8. Law of Biomechanics - The severity of the itch is inversely proportional to the reach.

  9. Law of the Theater or Sports Arena - At any event, the people whose seats are furthest from the aisle, always arrive last. They are the ones who will leave their seats several times to go for food, beer, or the toilet and who leave early before the performance or the game is over. The folks in the aisle seats come early, never move once, have long gangly legs or big bellies and stay to the bitter end of the performance. 

  10. The Law of Hot Coffee - As soon as you sit down to a cup of hot coffee, your boss will ask you to do something which will last until the coffee is cold.

  11. Murphy's Law of Lockers - If there are only 2 people in a locker room, they will have adjacent lockers.

  12. Law of Physical Surfaces  - The chances of an open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich landing face down on a floor are directly correlated to the newness and cost of the carpet or flooring.

  13. Law of Logical Argument  - Anything is possible IF you don't know what you are talking about.

  14. Law of Physical Appearance  - If the clothes fit, they're ugly.

  15. Law of Public Speaking - A closed mouth gathers no feet.

  16. Law of Commercial Marketing Strategy - As soon as you find a product that you really like, they will stop making it OR the store will stop selling it!

  17. Law of Doctor Office Appointments - If you don't feel well, make an appointment to go to the doctor, by the time you get there, you'll feel better. But don't make an appointment and you'll stay sick.
Source - From an email forward probably copied it off the internet which ensures it is true.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Church Camp

Growing up my main social settings, other than home and school, were Boy Scouts and my church youth group. Every summer between 7th and 12th grade, I went to two summer camps. Our scout troop would do summer camps in different locations, but church camp was always at Falls Creek in the Arbuckle Mountains of south central Oklahoma. According to their web site Falls Creek is "the largest youth camp in the world each summer with over 50,000 annually attending the eight youth weeks." That's a lot of kids!

Back in my era between 1979 and 1985, I met kids from all over Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas at Falls Creek. The Falls Creek staff, church staffs, and many volunteer parent chaperones invested their time and energy helping us kids have a great summer camp experience. I appreciate them for contributing to the development of many kids like me who benefited from the good moral values they poured into us. For the most part, church camp was a ton of fun too. I have a lot of great memories, but I was fairly introverted back then so meeting new people was also intimidating. Church camp wasn't all fun and games, at least not for me.

Oklahoma, like my native state of Texas, gets extremely hot in the summer. The large group meeting pavilion at Falls Creek had no air conditioning. They had some fans, but the heat could be stifling. The camp dress code enforced modesty, but also contributed to our suffering: no shorts or tank tops for the boys, and very modest attire for the young ladies. And just to be sure our pubescent minds wouldn't lust at the swimming pool, the boys and girls had segregated swimming times. I remember sweating a lot at church camp. Maybe they wanted us to get a tiny taste of the suffering in hell fire if we didn't repent. 

Our youth pastor did a really good job of recruiting kids for church camp. We always had many campers who weren't regular church attenders. Our youth pastor was a former jock, so he worked at getting the athletes and cheerleader types to come to camp. I guess he related better to those kids. I didn't. I was a book worm and a bit of a nerd who hung out with the "brain" clique at school. I didn't fit in with the "popular kids" he recruited for church camp, and contributing to this awkwardness was my lack of school friends at church.

My social circles of school, church, and Boy Scouts didn't intersect, and I wasn't very social anyway. I didn't have any friends that were in all three groups. Most of the kids at my church went to a different school than I did because my church was located within a different school district. There were a handful of kids from my school at my church, but most of the youth group attended the rival schools across town. I was also somewhat of a loner, so I never felt like I fit in. I felt like an outside observer more than a participant a lot of the time.

One of the observations I made was the annual repentance parade at church camp. Many of the kids were not regulars at church, so they didn't get regular doses of altar calls like I did. A full week of emotional altar calls would convict many of these kids about their ungodly behavior, so they would repent at church camp and either "get saved" if they hadn't before or "rededicate" if getting Jesus in their heart hadn't previously worked. All manner of evil would be forsaken at church camp.

Those of us who didn't have as much to confess would forsake listening to our evil rock music or petty lusts, but the really brave kids would confess and forsake doing drugs or having sex with their boy or girl friend. The bigger the sins and more radical the confession, the more attention they received from the youth director and adult leaders. The last night at church camp was always a big kumbaya love fest filled with singing, crying, hugging, and all manner of teenage emotion about how we were all going to be great friends at school. We'd all promise to stop the social cliques and "set the school on fire for Jesus." There was usually some sort of pretense toward reconciliation among this newly formed community of faith, but the new social structure never emerged.

I have to confess I got caught up in this repentance parade myself. Southern Baptists are pretty good about working the guilt and shame angle, and one year we even promised we would burn all our evil rock music. Those were the days when backmasking was a big controversy, and we didn't want to give the devil a foothold in our tender youthful hearts. The thing that bothered me most about the repentance parade and anticipated "revival" in our school is it never seemed to stick, and the social cliques would revert back just as they had been before. The Breakfast Club effect is fiction. Jocks, brains, pretty people, and outcasts (we called them "freaks") just don't mix in American teenage life. I raised three boys who went through pretty much the same thing in their teenage years. In fact, it may be worse today with social media and the internet.

These youth group experiences were the beginning of the end for me and organized religion. The temporal results and emotional appeal altar calls based on subtle shame and guilt wreaked havoc in my young psyche, and when I went off to college in 1985, I walked away from church and God completely. As Paul Harvey would say: Here's the rest of the story.