Saturday, April 28, 2007

Time for a Change

Well, all good things must end. Plus some bad ones too. I'm hoping to do a complete site makeover, once I figure it all out. I'm realizing my need for a professional image, especially here at my flagship.

As inspiration, I look to Gideon's redone hub. It is a truly beautiful piece of work. Also, I'm glad that he has come back online, as it were.

The questions I'm asking as I consider redesign are not, "what image do I want", but instead "what are my deepest commitments and concerns" and "who am I". I'm learning that if you want to build a "brand", whether as a company or as a virtual persona, you cannot create authenticity--you just have to be authentic.

Here's to the future!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The War Has Begun

I usually don't write overly personal posts, but this is one. My family is at war. More specifically, my daughter and I are at war. The war is over the rights to the milk (wonderful, delicious whole milk) and the Cheerios. She takes them separately, I take them together.

This really should be an easy war. I'm bigger than her. However, as every parent knows, children always get their way...always (they are much like Wal-Mart in that regard). We only get one gallon of whole milk a week, so the supply is scare. However, I think we are coming to a truce: it seems that I can squeeze out two bowls of Cheerios and still leave enough milk for her. The problem now is that I finished the box of Cheerios while she was asleep this morning (lucky for me that I wake before her--victory is mine!). Thankfully, she has these star puffs of various unintelligible flavors.

War is hell.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I've been reading a few marketing books by Seth Godin as of late. I highly recommend them for his "intuitive" marketing approach, I've found it helpful and fruitful, as I've written elsewhere. One of the concept that he has termed is the "ideavirus" or how something (whether an idea or a product) spreads from one person to another. Interesting way of putting it, memorable if nothing else (which, I believe, is the point). He calls the folks who spread this communicable idea "sneezers". I am a sneezer.

I love talking about things I like. I've recommended Seth's stuff at least twice today, not counting the above paragraph. I try and give friends leads on good blogging, good websites, good businesses, and good people within businesses. One of the best experiences business-wise I've had lately is with Everything Coffee & Tea, one of our wholesalers. I emailed them about a novel tea brewing concept I had heard about and their reply was prompt and detailed. The tried the concept in store because of my idea. That is fantastic service. The company will go far because of it.

At the same time, though, sneezers like me are easily put-off and hard (oh so hard) to win back. There are places I won't go, people I'll try and interact with as little as possible, and businesses I won't patronize because they have been off-putting. Of course, I'm willing to try again, but it takes a lot to convince people like me to actually take the step to try again.

Understanding this, to me, is very important. I want as many positive sneezes as I can get for Beaver Falls Coffee & Tea. The possibility of making a bad drink, then, becomes downright terrifying. However, drinks aren't the only thing that make sneezers here sneeze. If it is a bad drink, more likely than not, they will tell me. In that case, my employees and I have the opportunity to make a great sneezer: we can win them over with our customer service and our desire to listen. Since sneezers like me like to talk, we also love to be listened to. If we are listened to by an establishment, even if the product needs work, we will positively sneeze all over the place.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Is Gideon Gone?

I, along with others, have noticed that Gideon Strauss' blog has been password protected for a week or so. I haven't been able to figure out what was going on until I looked at another blog of his. Here's what he says:
Sadly, the server that hosts my blog seems to have crashed. With unexpected, quick, thorough help from John Barach I have salvaged the content. The plan is to relocate my blog on the Comment server. But it will take a month, since everyone is very busy on other projects. Thank you to Jeff S. for suggesting I mention the problem here - I was at a loss as to how I might notify people of this situation. Even this note will only reach some of my readers, I suppose ....
This is my attempt to further promulgate the news. Hope to see you back soon, Gideon.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

New Life the City Shall Attain

That is the title of the Sunday school class I hope to develop and lead within the next year or so: a class on the local church's role in the revivification of a down-and-out city. Specifically, though, it is meant to be an action plan of how my church (and other likeminded ones in my area) can work in/learn from Beaver Falls. This weekend has been very fruitful for my thought process, since I was blessed with a large amount of time to think and no real resposibilites (past baby care).

I remember being asked a number of years ago, by the then college chaplain, why I wanted to stay in Beaver Falls. Thinking of the psalm verse that became the title of this post, I said because God loves Beaver Falls (one of the few times I've used a phrase such as "God loves..." in any context, I have a problem of not knowing who or what God loves on any consistent basis). The chaplain, being the good Reformed man that he is, responded, "How do you know God loves Beaver Falls, He could very well hate it and hold it under a curse." My response to that remark has been forgotten in the foggy mists of history, but my further reflections on it I can tell here.

(By way of necessary introduction...)

I do not believe that God saves us to go to heaven when we die. At best, that is a naive way of reading Scripture, at worst, it is pagan inspired heresy. Instead, as I told a Bible class recently, we are saved to a purpose: salvation is always accompanied by calling. Romans 8 vividly lays this out, we are saved to respond to the groaning of creation-under-bondage and bring it liberty, if only in part now. Sin has affected the whole of creation, including sociological aspects such as dwelling together in cities, and redemption is just as total. Redemption has as much to do with us loving God as with us loving our neighbors (who are in the image of God and, potentially at least, possibly remade in that same image). The place of heaven in all of this is slightly different than we've been traditionally led to believe: "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

If our prayer (and therefore our vow) is to have heaven break forth onto the earth (see Revelation 20-22), then our place matters very significantly. In fact, part of the Christian failure is that our articulation of the "good life" (or, in Matthew's terms "heaven on earth") lays precisely on our insistence of the abstract as the proper realm of theology. The abstract is applicable anywhere, which is to say it is homeless. Abstractions, for all their necessity (and they are both necessary and unavoidable and created with equal ultimacy to specificity), tend to make everywhere the same. Wendell Berry, one of my favorite writers, speaks about this with his onus: industrial agriculture has made an abstraction out of the specific places of agriculture and instead of leading to helpful agricultural norms, has destroyed every place it touched. Theology is the same way. There are norms, good and pleasing and helpful norms, but if they stay abstract the tendency will be towards violence: others must always and everywhere believe what I (or we) believe, otherwise they are worse enemies of the faith than pagans. Homeless theology has produced homeless Christians. No vision of the "good life", though, can be separated from a specific place of a small enough scale to allow proper human care to flourish.

Each part of this is important and cries out for explication.

Firstly, Christianity is so much more than theology, taken in the abstract (some think that a Reformed person saying this is an oxymoron, I assure you, it is not). Christianity is itself a halaka, a way-of-being-in-the-world. It is a vision and an action plan to see the "good life" or "heaven on earth" take shape in the here-and-now, always looking to the future when God will vindicate and perfect our actions and always looking to the past to see where others have succeeded and others have failed. Being a Christian, above all else, is an allegiance to continue the work of Jesus in bringing God's light to the world. It takes the specificity of Jesus' work in Israel and expands it to the whole world by making it specific to each culture and area that it influences.

So, secondly, Christianity must have a specific place. Each place is different, having different needs at different times. The halaka must be adaptable to that place. A revival of the parish system, where the local church is concerned most of all with local (that is, the neighborhood in which it is situated) needs makes the most sense, instead of the cookie-cutter churches we have rising up today that trying to help everyone everywhere and end up helping no one nowhere.

Thirdly, this leads to the idea of scale. Our society, our culture, has lost the idea of proper human scale. Admittedly, it is a nebulous, sort of amorphous concept. What is proper scale for one may be hubristic to another. Granted. However, there are limits that can be discernable (isn't this what the work of the arts and sciences is supposed to help us figure out?): no one human can care for an infinity of anything--that's why there is the division of labor. To do so is the supreme act of arrogance, akin to the rebellion of Adam. The strange thing is, as we have lost any sense of scale, we also have lost the ability to take care of those things within our scale. We may be able to track, understand, and internalize news international, national, and celebrity, but we lack the ability to cook our own food, make our own clothes, or repair anything we own. It is nothing but a form of slavery; we trade the mess of pottage in the present for future rewards that currently are intangible.

Lastly, flourishing. This is another word for the "good life". In Hebrew it would be shalom, brought on by our tseddaqah, our faithfulness to God's way of seeing "[His] will be done on earth as it is in heaven".

It may well be that the place I am called to be, that is to work, play, learn, love, and probably die, is under a curse. In fact, I know it is (Genesis 3). However, I am an agent of the conquering king who has set me to work. His people are here to do their predestined work, to bring shalom through tseddaqah. Now it is all about brainstorming how to accomplish that out of the realm of the abstract.

It certainly will involve a lot of risk and a lot of failure, but our God is the God of Resurrection. In that confidence, we can sing, "New life the city shall attain..."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Name of the Rose

Way back when (meaning a couple of posts ago), I asked you, the faithful reader, to suggest what fiction book I should read. Since I have wanted to read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco for a long time, it was the easy winner. What a beautiful and frustrating book. Beautiful in that, even though it is a translation from the Italian original, its prose is crisp and every word is full of meaning and import for the story. No surprise considering the author is a professor of semiotics, the study of symbols and signs. The plot of the book revolves around a series of strange, almost apocalyptic, murders at a 14th century Northern Italian Benedictine monastery. The story takes seven days (reminiscent of the seven trumpets, bowls, etc. of Revelation), all broken down according to Benedictine time (matins, compline, etc.). The narrator, Adso of Melk, is a novice monk assigned to William of Baskerville (a Franciscan monk). They travel to the unnamed monastery on the Emperor's business: to facilitate a meeting between the Franciscans (who claim that Christ was, of necessity, poor and the church should follow him in this) and the Papal legations (all about the Benjamins), which is really a cover reason to debate how much temporal power the church should have. In the midst of this is the murders, the inquisitions, the Song of Songs peasant girl love, and debates as to whether the world has any order. While the book can be slow at points, it keeps the reader riveted with its discourses about the meaning of the arts (especially comedy and laughter), love (carnal and spiritual), and meaning in a breaking-down world.

The frustrating part about the book is the postmodern bent at the end, when William denies any meaning to the universe except what man gives it. There is, in the end (as Adso so insightfully points out), no God to give meaning since to say there is an order in the universe limits God's absolute sovereignty (at this point, Dooyeweerdians and VanTillians should cringe, but the book is written in the middle ages when the Philosopher reigned supreme). Even the book, such a wonderful chronicle, ends with a depressing "I don't know why I'm even writing this." It does, however, bring up the question that every humanistic philosophy must deal with: if man is not transcendent, how can he apply lasting meaning to any part of reality? Eco, himself not a Christian (as far as I can tell), answers it by correctly saying, "He can't." All man has is signs, but they don't point to any true order, intepretations change and signs can point in many different directions at once. In other words, without some human standard, mankind is lost in translation.

Another interesting thing is how this movie is juxtaposed with its cinema rendition. While the ultimate meaning of the book is meaningless, the movie tends to say that love--even sinful love--conquers all the narrow-mindedness of the world, especially the religious world. This is shown in the love story between Adso and the peasant girl and the story of William and his love of rationality. Concerning Adso and the girl, the juxtaposition is most extreme. In the book, their carnal encounter is beautifully and tastefully narrated with direct quotations and allusions to the Song of Songs, whereas in the movie it borders on the pornographic. In the book, the peasant girl says to Adso that he is "young and handsome", in her vernacular, whereas in the movie all she can do is grunt like an ape. In the special features section of the DVD, Eco is interviewed and grants interpretive license to the movie makers (how delightfully postmodern), which in essence changes the book's content and message. The develops a sense of irony that Eco elaborates in the appendix to the book's revised version: there is no innocence, what we can say has already been said and we now know it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

This Eschatological Tension

Sometimes the tension is too much. Sometimes it doesn't make sense. Sometimes justice is injustice and mercy is cruelty. The wicked prosper and the righteous lack. The evil are exalted and the pure are humiliated.

How long, O Lord?