Dave Ramsey Blocked Me On Twitter

A little background info: A few months back Allison and I took Dave Ramsey's "Financial Peace University" course at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, FL.  We were greatly entertained by his video presentations, we had a wonderful group leader and group members, and we came away from the experience with a new, fresh set of eyes to the world.  Since the class we have treated money in a very different way, being unbelievably careful in our budgeting.  I strongly recommend the course for anyone with money woes as it appears to me to be the best thing going for getting out of debt, saving for retirement, and becoming financially peaceful instead of financially and persistently worried.

But having said that, a story.

I spent the last three years of my life studying Scripture, homiletics, liturgics, exegesis, evangelism, and more at what major portions of the Christian world might call a "liberal" seminary: Duke Divinity School.  Duke's seminary is far from overtly liberal, but that's a story for another day.

There is, however, a persistent and common theme among many of Duke seminarians' worldviews.  Many who attend Duke's Divinity School (not all, just many) see significant problems with the economic status of this country. Without entering into my best impression of Michael Moore, I'll suffice it to say that Capitalism, as it is practiced in the United States, seems contrary to much of Jesus's teachings about caring for the poor. Capitalism seems antithetical to our command to care for the poor. Capitalism, as they and I see it, exemplifies and glorifies the successful ones making generalizations about the less successful, generally resulting in a lower quality of life for the less successful. Capitalism is economic survival of the fittest and fundamentally less compassionate than other systems.

Due to poor judgment (I guess) and a genuine interest in the financial woes of this country, I make a regular habit out of listening to Dave Ramsey's podcast.  For the most part, The Dave Ramsey Show consists of callers who call in and either 1) need advice on a business or how to get them or a friend out of debt or 2) a family or individual celebrating their new debt-free life with a "debt-free scream".  (I'll admit to getting teary-eyed on more than one occasion at the debt-free scream after hearing the story.)

Every once in awhile though, The Dave Ramsey Show features a belligerent and angry Dave Ramsey who counters any new measure President Obama has made. Or, if he's feeling greedy, any movement of the Left.  Dave takes it upon himself to show his listeners how "stupid" (yes, he uses the word frequently) Obama's "socialistic" ideas are. To Dave, socialism has no virtues.  Spreading the wealth has no business with he hard-earned money.

Dave started into a rant one day about how people asking for higher wages in minimum wage jobs don't deserve a higher pay--their economic value isn't high enough.  He drew a distinction between a person's inherent and economic value.  While the human has value, the market dictates someone's economic value (and therefore their paid wage).  It's free market, capitalistic jargon at its best.

I struggled here.

Someone's economic value is completely separate from their value as a human? The two are not related or interact at all? Is the proper response to the poor a lesson on their economic value? Is that how Jesus responded?

So I posted this tweet when I got out of the shower (I listen to his show in the shower):

I literally didn't even get dried off completely before Dave responded.

I was caught off guard here as I didn't expect Dave to respond. I wondered if Dave and I were referring to the same "Word."  I was imagining he meant the Word Became Flesh. Intrigued, I pressed on.

I was lost now.  There was no way he and I were reading the same Bible.  The Bible I read points to a God who came in the form of a man, in the form of broken humanity, to redeem humanity in new life through death and resurrection, to teach God's children how they were to be, and to present a Kingdom that was unlike any other. Jesus's ministry on earth dealt largely with compassion toward the poor and healing of their often sick and diseased bodies. Never once did Jesus say, "You know, you're poor.  And you're poor because your economic value isn't high enough." This just wasn't clicking for me.

I responded:

Note:  I threw in the bit about giving because I thought we could find common ground.  Dave's class encourages students to build extravagant wealth and then GIVE like no one else. Dave's class encourages his students to cut down their lifestyle to an affordable level, he says, "Live like no one else so that later you can live and GIVE like no one else."  I was attempting to throw him a good and helpful bone.

He responded:

For what it's worth, I believe the Parable of the Talents to be about discipleship in growth of the kingdom, not a study in economics (though he's not the first person I've seen point to it as an economic lesson and I doubt he will be the last).  

And that was that.  Dave, I'm assuming, added me to his increasingly popular "blocked" list. I can no longer follow him and I assume that any @reply to Dave's account will go unseen when coming from my account.  One short seemingly harmless conversation in which a student of Dave's decided that he didn't quite agree with Dave and Dave decided that he never wanted to hear from that student again.  A relationship ended over a disagreement and nothing more.

I learned two things:

  1. If you disagree with Dave, you're no longer a friend of Dave.
  2. Dave doesn't even believe what he says he believes.

Regarding #2, to close.  Every single time a caller calls in to Dave's radio show and asks how Dave is doing, his go-to response is the same: "Better than I deserve".  If Dave is really doing better than he deserves, how can he be so territorial with his own money? He's unwilling to live in a society where the poor can be helped by society at large.

The gospel writers put it this way when they quoted Jesus, "You can't serve two masters...You cannot serve both God and Money."  Dave is attempting to do both.  But in the process, he's devoting to one and disposing of the other.  Just as Jesus predicted.

-B

 

UPDATE: Due to overwhelming and unforeseen interest in this post, I've been fortunate to receive some copy editing from a good friend, Mat Hotho.  If you're rereading this article and things seem smoother, thank him. Thanks to all who have been interested;  I greatly appreciate your support and critiques.

Change, Community, Communion, and Curation

It often seems unnecessarily radical to change one's ways of doing things.  When systematic ways are changed, either by brute force or previous failure, many many react negatively.  This is happening in Congress as the GOP-controlled House fights against the already-lawful-and-upheld-by-the-Supreme-Court-as-constitutional Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). It's something different, very different, being treated with hostility because of its difference and perceived (and somewhat realistic) hardships.  

Difference and change are difficult for so many to comprehend.

There are viable reasons for this. Many arguments made against Obamacare are valid and backed up by numbers and inevitable cost to typical Americans. In many ways Obama will take more money from each American in order to make health insurance for all Americans a reality.  It is very different from how America has traditionally treated her citizens since her beginning.  Valid concerns are heard, but change keeps on trucking.

The thing about change, historically, is that it is easily delayed but essentially unavoidable.  It only can be re-steered to go in the "proper" direction. Change is inevitable; direction of that change is somewhat controllable.

[Quick change of scene.] 

As a United Methodist, I have a common joke I make about our church: we are always 20 years behind.  It's only a joke but it strikes a strong chord on the reality guitar.  Take contemporary worship music for example.  Simply put, the United Methodist Church, for better or for worse, ignored the contemporary worship scene for years upon years.  "Contemporary" worship music pushed through the evangelical and hippie-ish movements in the late 60s and early 70s and began to refine itself in the mid-late 80s and early 90s.  Evangelical churches (read: non-United Methodist churches) were often the first to jump on board.  There might be many reasons for this, of which the fact that many of those churches do not submit to any larger governing body ought to be at the top, but evangelical churches by and large beat Methodists to this punch. United Methodists have moaned and groaned about how badly the music is written and how non-theological the lyricism is ever since, but the general public has seen some churches grow and some die.  United Methodist churches have been on the dying side of things far too often.

We are late to the game and they seem to be "winning." How to combat this then? Well, of course: We have to raise our numbers so that our church doesn't die! We must start a contemporary worship service! How then do we do that?  Well let's look at some resources.  Where are these resources?  Oh great, there are tons of resources available!  There is tons of music available! Who is providing this music? Oh! The Evangelicals. Great!  Let's hire a worship leader!  Great! Most of the good worship leaders are at the evangelical churches, so we'll get the pretty-good ones.  They should be able to lead the United Methodist Church into the next generation of worship! Great! This is going to be so great! 

And, what do we end up with?  We end up with a church whose tradition of well-written, theological singing is nearly lost because in the switch to the new medium/genre, we picked up someone else's tradition and theology simply because it was already there for us. We blindly took the cookie left for us without considering the consequences. Change came and we got on board and took the road-too-often-traveled without considering where it was taking us.

20 years behind, then, may mean that we need to curate a bit more than we'd expect.  What's the trade-off of simply using someone else's work?  What's the trade-off for our congregations and disciple-building? Have we fully examined this change, its constant insistence upon itself, and where our destination lies?

The same has happened in online communities.  Online communities, if you can believe it, are old now.  They began, essentially, with the advent of email and have continued to be refined and refined over time. What one sees in Facebook, and all Facebook is meant to be, is simply and refinement (albeit a very well done refinement with its share of quality innovations) of the original idea of communicating and communing online. Online communities may seem like a new thing to people (and maybe especially to United Methodists) but they're simply not.  Hey, United Methodists, you're late again.

And so we pick up where we left off. Many non-UMC churches are offering well-done online churches in which a church attendee can log on, converse with a online pastor, watch the worship service, and even pray online with the guidance of the pastor.  The difference is, of course, one doesn't feel the pastor's hand on your back as you pray; she's generally miles away from you.  This sort of idea isn't new, it's simply new to United Methodists.  A popular church in Florida is doing just that (a high school friend of mine is heading it up...you can check it out at www.engagemenow.net).  

The new conversation (happening right now in Nashville, TN) is whether or not United Methodists ought to offer the sacrament of Holy Communion over the internet.  Practically speaking, it's exactly as it sounds.  The viewer (and I use that term intentionally) provides their own bread and grape juice (or wine), while the pastor blesses the elements through your computer or TV screen.  It's along the same lines as that pastor praying over you but without being able to physically feel their presence...except it's with the sacrament of communion.

Perhaps this is an controversial concept to speak about because many of the other churches don't hold communion (Eucharist) in the same regard as United Methodists (or, if we're speaking honestly, maybe many of them actually hold it in HIGHER regard simply due to their insistence on the frequency of participation in Eucharist) . In other words, maybe Methodists are trying to graft United Methodism onto a medium and evangelism technique that someone else, someone different than us, already created. The difference is that the penalty for moving in that direction on that road of change is a loss of traditional practice that has been important to Methodism. In my mind, it's not much different than us trying to sing that one song and trying to change the lyrics because the song is so...like...Calvinist. We couldn't write a comparable one!  We just have to graft Wesleyan theology onto whatever trends come because we were late to the game and not innovative enough to pull ourselves out of the hole.

Goodbye, Wesleyan sense of community.  Goodbye, Wesleyan understanding of Jesus's presence in the Eucharist and the necessity of physicality for incarnation to be experienced.  Goodbye, sung Wesleyan theology with an emphasis on the unending and unchanging love and grace of God. 

I'll maintain until I die that change is inevitable and good in this world.  But, change comes with responsibility.  Change comes with the need for curation.  Change also comes with the need for innovation and outside-of-the-box mentalities. And, while all those seem so poorly connected, it is indeed necessary that they all work together cohesively so that the good parts of what we have are not lost. The danger of Calvinistic theology creeping into Wesleyan churches--even if only through the music--is, and has been, upon us.  The danger of cultural definitions of "community" and "experience" is creeping in on us and our livelihood is at stake.

Online communities are coming.  The challenge and calling is there for churches to attend to.  People want religion and they want to be online.  Ignoring it seems silly and simply jumping on the bandwagon blindly seems sillier. Change is necessary and inevitable.  Curation and innovation are necessary and often forgotten.

Let us not be so persuaded by a new movement that we forget who we are.  Maybe, just maybe, we can feed a need within our society in a new and better way.

-B

 

On Guns

"Guns are bad for us" my repeated refrain often reads. It's simple and to the point: guns do little good for our society.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about guns and their impact on our society lately.  Two obvious events have brought the conversation to my mind.  On July 20, 2012, a man walked in (dressed in armor) to a packed movie theater and opened fire on the room during the opening of a movie. I have yet to watch that movie because of the incident.  He killed 12 people and injured 58 others in one of the largest mass shootings in the US's history. All of that occurred in what witnesses say was about three minutes; from the moment he shot until he was arrested was less than ten minutes. Later that year, one week after the 71st anniversary of the 'day that will live in infamy', a deranged 20-year-old entered an elementary school in Newtown, CT with no intentions of walking out alive, or letting anyone else survive.  Mercilessly he continued his shooting rampage that had begun against his mother, killing 28 people in total (including himself and his mother) in about 11 minutes.

These were two horrifying tragedies.  I grew up in the age of Columbine and 9/11. I was in college for Virginia Tech.  I, and the rest of my generation, have experienced more mass school shootings than any generation should.  We are beginning to see a time in our nation's history when, through the internet and other means, young people have more access to more things.  These things include immediate information, pornography, instant access to all their friends, and…most of all, guns. James Holmes, of the 2012 Aurora shooting, bought his weapons, legally, from shops around the Denver, CO area. He bought an unbelievable amount of ammunition on the Internet, where massive quantities of product are available in two days with free shipping.  Guns, as we have understood them, are a different threat to our society than they've been in the past. So, if they were bad to begin with, they've become worse.

Let's think about the nature of guns, shall we?  What is it that makes guns different than say, a knife?  Most agree that the first effective projectile weapon used predates any recorded history.  That weapon was the bow and arrow, best known in the United States for being used by Native Americans to hunt for their food.  Perhaps, when processing projectile weapons, we ought to begin there.  Why would the bow and arrow have been invented?  Generally, tools are developed by humans (because we are an innovative people) so that our lives could be made better.  Think about the first people to use spears.  The spear is technically a projectile weapon which humans used to capture their prey.  What if a human could invent a device that could essentially throw a spear, but from a further distance and more accurately?  Wouldn't that be better for killing prey?  Wouldn't that be better?  Enter the bow and arrow.

The bow and arrow did something innovative, something new.  It, for what some consider the first time, allowed a stationary human being to inflict harm on something else (human, animal, or whatever) without moving.  A spear, for any accuracy at all, required a human to be close to its target.  A bow and arrow allowed the human to shoot from a distance with increased accuracy.  Humans were suddenly able, with their innovation, to kill with more accuracy and deadliness than ever before. The earliest guns are typically dated to around 1,000 years ago, appearing first in China (where else?).  These guns accomplished what many were seeking to do: improve upon these projectile weapons.  The Chinese were able to use their extensive knowledge and experience with explosive powders to create a projectile weapon that could inflict harm on its target from a ways away.  The shift here is significant: humans beings were now able to inflict harm on something that they were not touching.

This shift is fundamental to my argument and one I think we cannot take lightly.  If, prior to projectile weaponry, humans wanted to inflict harm on other beings, humans needed to be touching them.  Once spearing became popular and bow and arrows progressed from that idea, the ability for defense against such an act by the other being was eliminated.  The power shift happened.  Because of innovation, one being had declared power over the other being by simply employing a 'tool' that could cause harm to the other. This shift is significant.  How much could a person well trained in the martial arts defend themselves against a weapon that sent its destructive force through the air?  If one is not in contact with a human body, how could someone defend themselves?  Innovation, here, meant a paradigmatic shift in how we understood defense and violence.  The winner of a wrestling match used to be the smartest and strongest one there.  One could be smart, but it was likely that in order to defend oneself, they would also need to be able to physically combat the other.  Fighting back, in other words, required brute strength as well as smarts.

Innovation though, as it always does, won out.  Suddenly, with a projectile weapon, one could combat another who was significantly physically stronger than them.  This is a fundamental shift in how our world thought about winning.  In order to win, then, required no physical strength…it simply required you to own a projectile weapon.  Think about the change that has happened because of the mass production of weaponry as well: one doesn't even need the brains to out smart another with a projectile weapon, they simply need the weapon.  Even if I am both strong and smart, I will still lose to a gun. Every time. This principle is crucial to one's understanding of how to deal properly with talk of weaponry.  If a human's dependency on winning is no longer intimately connected to their physical well being or their traits, then the enemy of the human is no longer the human.  The enemy of the human, the one that can destroy a human's essence, is then the human who created the weapon which the human holds.  The enemy, in a sense then, becomes the weapon itself.  The enemy becomes innovation.  The weapon has put into place an entirely new power dynamic.

And so we have a situation like the one on 12/21/2012 (the day some thought the world was going to end) where someone could stand before a grieving America and make a statement like, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."  Guns, projectile weapons that become extensions of the violent bodies we maintain, are unstoppable.  We can only defend ourselves by using the weapon itself.  LaPierre suggests that the only way to solve our murder crisis in America is to arm our schools.  So the solution to the enemy that he proposes is to carry more enemies, not to rethink the enemy itself.  Aren't we allowed to look back at innovation and ponder whether it was good for us in the first place?  Should these fundamental shifts be taking place?

Guns are different than anything our society has ever dealt with before.  They extend our brokenness on others, without the immediate danger of being broken ourselves.  This shift takes lives every day.  It has taken more lives since December 14, 2012 than those outside terrorists took on 9/11/2001 (talk about a reactionary shift!).  This shift, in the form of a weapon, not only shifted power but as the iterations of innovation rolled in it has increased the likelihood of one shot being killed.  Now not only can shooter warn an opponent, a shooter can kill an opponent without the opponent having the God-given ability to defend oneself.  An opponent, then, is left to resort to the manmade innovation, the enemy, in order to even have a chance at survival--and that's only if they get the shot off first.

It seems to me that playing in this territory is dangerous.  I believe some, in fact most, innovation to be good.  But innovation that exists only to kill?  That innovation is dangerous at best, and catastrophic at worst.  

This isn't a conversation, or shouldn't be at least, about 'rights' (even though this 'right' to bear arms is not what was considered a certain 'inalienable' right endowed by their creator).  This conversation must be about what is good for us. This is why I maintain that if statistics exist that point us to see that guns are regularly stopping mass shootings, or preventing more deaths than they're causing, then I am open to change my views.

Until then, I maintain that guns are bad for us.  They fundamentally change the way that humans exist.  This fact, above all, should constantly be brought into question.

-B

Contemporary Worship Music: Unintentional Ecumenism

ec·u·men·i·cal

adjective

1. general; universal.
2. pertaining to the whole Christian church.
3. promoting or fostering Christian unity throughout the world.
4. of or pertaining to a movement (ecumenical movement), especially among Protestant groups since the 1800s, aimedat achieving universal Christian unity and church unionthrough international interdenominational organizations thatcooperate on matters of mutual concern.
5. interreligious or interdenominational: an ecumenicalmarriage.

In the United Methodist Church, we have a hymnal.  Every 20 years or so another one pops up, with great new hymns,  great old hymns, and...unfortunately...some of the same old, really bad hymns.  The church is trying to be 'progressive' (whatever that means), so we have seen little books like 'The Faith We Sing' and 'Worship and Song' pop up as well.  These are the technologically limited offerings aimed at keeping up with the rapid rate of song creation in the Church these days.  'Worship and Song,' printed last year, has only now included "How Great is Our God" and "Open the Eyes of My Heart" (Open the Eyes of My Heart was written in 1997, How Great is Our God in 2004).

When I purchased my copy of 'Worship and Song' at Cokesbury, the sales associate told me that this was the "first expandable hymnal!"  I asked her how the binding to the book played a role in its expandability and she gave me the scrunched-nose face. Technologically, these books have been limited.

Interestingly enough, in some Christian circles, this technological barrier has played a huge role in keeping the churches singing the same songs they've been singing for ages. In others, they have ignored the technological implications completely.  Many Christians are growing up in church environments (that alone is something to celebrate) and do not realize that Christians used to sing songs out of books that they held in their hands instead of on screens (I'll let you decide whether or not that is something to celebrate).

Long story short: music in the Church is rapidly changing.  Some people are changing it, some are avoiding it.  Others, like the United Methodist Church in large part, avoided it for 20 years or so and are just now trying to catch up. The last category of churches feel a little like RIM and Nokia do now when it comes to smart phones:  late to the game inevitably will hurt, no matter your customer loyalty.

Not long ago I presented a hymnal to a student of mine on which her name was imprinted.  I said to her, "These are the songs of our tradition." Ever since that moment, I've been thinking about what I meant by that statement.  Did I mean that these are the ONLY songs of our tradition?  Did I mean that these are the songs our of tradition and OUR TRADITION alone?  What is it that I meant?  Does that make the songs outside of our hymnal NOT part of our tradition?

In seminary we talk a lot about the music we sing being formative for the Christian journey.  We sing songs pertinent to the liturgical context we are in, usually having something to do with the morning's message.  We pride ourselves: the hymns we sing aren't, and shouldn't be, fluff.

In fact, the United Methodist Church has something going for it here.  Charles Wesley, brother to John Wesley and co-founder of the Methodist movement in England, wrote hundreds of poems.  As the search for a 'Wesleyan' identity is set before us in the UMC, a return to Charles's lyrics are usually appreciated.  Whenever I bring the topic up in UMC circles, eyes light up.  "Yes! That's the way it should be!" they seem to say.  Methodism was blessed from its beginnings with theologically based hymns and Methodists far and wide don't want to lose that.

This isn't the whole story though.  We sing songs every Sunday in Methodist Churches that were written by non-Methodist writers. Heck, we sing songs in church on Sundays that were written by the Gaithers.  We sing songs written by Calvinist predestinarians.  We sing all kinds of music in the UMC, no matter how much we pride ourselves in being 'Wesleyan.'

I was thinking about all of this, trying to put these pieces together in my head, so that I could sort out the proper course of action. Then I had this thought: We're not seeing this hangup with many who are writing music for the masses today.

No, in fact, these hangups of being strictly 'Wesleyan' don't matter to many.  The people who are constantly writing new, exciting, progressive, worship music are largely from non-denominational churches. These churches usually have some sort of vague mission statement and clearly defining themselves is not something they do!  The popular people writing music these days for the 'contemporary worship' setting are largely tied to movements.  Is Hillsong a movement or a church?  Yes.  Is Passion a movement or a church?  Yes.  What do these movements do? A little bit of everything.  Many of these groups don't even use the word "church." Being sticklers for quality, theologically sound music is simply not a priority.  They want music that is exciting and engaging, and the lyrical composition can be what it is.

The question then becomes: is the work coming out of these 'movements' unifying the church at all?  In other words, if those producing material are not hung up on staying true to their founders, are they free to write music that spans across denominational barriers? Are these songs acting, whether intended for it or not, as a form of ecumenism?

These songs, those written within the past 20 years for 'contemporary' worship environments are criticized all the time for being too "simplistic" or "shallow" in their theology. But it occurs to me that this  very criticism might actually be what makes these songs work across the barriers.  Charles Wesley wrote songs that were deeply explicit in their lyrics, calling out church heretics, heretical leanings, and teachings that were against his views of Christianity.  He even, from time to time, called out people by name.

We simply aren't seeing this in today's music.  We're singing statements about loving Jesus, about Jesus rising from the dead, and Jesus saving us.  While they might still be criticized for aligning themselves with Jesus and little else of the Trinity, these are overarching statements that don't necessarily apply to any specific denomination or tradition.

It seems to me that it is BECAUSE of the more universal nature of the lyrics within recent songwriting that these songs are becoming forms of ecumenism.  These songs are popular, easy to sing (choruses and refrains repeat constantly) and when played well, tug at the emotions of those singing them.  In a sense, these songs are unifying the church.  These songs are played in Baptist churches, Methodist churches, Presbyterian churches, Catholic churches, Lutheran churches, and most prominently in non-denominational churches far and wide.

So, are they unifying? Yeah, I guess, in a way they are.  These songs are being sung all over, much like hymns like "Holy, Holy, Holy" "It Is Well" and "Come Thou Fount" were before.  Generalized lyrics and easy to sing melodies.  They surpass and tear down walls of division that have been placed there by theological and political arguments for 2000 years. To me, it's an interesting phenomenon.

See, the technological barriers of printing books has kept many denominations and generations infused with the idea that if it's not in our hymnal, it's no good.  This has allowed for boards and agencies to curate the contents of our singing, too.  But, these groups that work past those technological barriers (we don't print books anymore), are able to stretch beyond that. And, because of that freedom, they've explored new realms of communal singing.

The interesting question is, what if true, studied theologians had done this rather than the guy down the street who played guitar?  Would that have changed the outcome?  Could we have had a more universal set of songs that were ALSO theologically grounded?  I don't think so.  I think the "shallowness" of much of what we see set to worship music today should get credit for helping me attend a non-denominational service and know the music.

Contemporary worship style gets a lot of crap for the way in which it exists. All I'm saying is that its music (one of the biggest reasons it has been successful) deserves a look. A critique, too, perhaps.  But, definitely, a look.

Just some random thoughts.

-B

AT&Terrible

It was September 11, 2009.

I was newly married and was beginning to learn what it meant to be an adult. But, I was still tied to my parents' cell phone plan. In fact, it had not been too long since my parents had graciously purchased me the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1. Truthfully, that G1 was the entire reason for this debacle.

I was on my way to the Apple store for an entirely different reason. And, as I drove toward the Brandon Towne Center, my G1 rang. I answered (a rarity for me). And then, I lost the call (also a rarity on T-Mobile). I looked at my phone. It said...and I quote..."Application: Phone has frozen"

My one selectable option: "Force Quit Application: 'Phone'"

I looked at Allison and said, "Baby, I'm gonna walk in there and buy an iPhone and be rid of this headache." Surprisingly, she didn't stop me. All she said was, "If you do, I want one too." I walked out of the Apple store, new toy in hand, convinced that if I "didn't like it" that I would "return it within 30 days no questions asked."

Right...

I never looked back. It took me all of 45 seconds of playing with it that night to know we'd be back to buy another one very soon.

The infamous catch: the iPhone was only offered on AT&Terrible. After hearing horror stories about the company left and right, I remember saying to someone on the phone (after the purchase), "I just signed a contract with the devil."

It is that very contract that brings me here today. That very contract, those infamous two-year agreements, and the enticing 'grandfathering' of certain features has kept me with the company ever since. Since then, the iPhone has released on two other US carriers, Verizon and Sprint, and has sold spectacularly well despite certain hindrances to those carriers' service.

Up until this point, I've been allowed to keep my "Unlimited" data package that I originally signed up for back in 2009. This is not only no longer available on AT&Terrible, Verizon, or T-Mobile (the only main US carrier to feature unlimited data for the iPhone is Sprint and most have said that its speeds are abysmal), but it is coveted by every user who was enticed by AT&Terrible's 'hotspot' feature and immediately lost their unlimited data.

Until recently.

Lately, AT&Terrible has been cracking down on their 'bandwith hogs.' AT&Terrible has been forcing some users to have their data throttled to unusable speeds because they were 'using too much bandwith for their area.' As you can imagine, it lit up a storm. Some guy even sued them (and won) because he says they broke the contract.

So, AT&Terrible (understandably in a problematic place...people want fast data and they want lots of it) has changed their policy.

The New Policy:

  • Previously 'granfathered' users won't have their data throttled until they reach 3GB a month.
  • This is true for every user nationwide.
  • The 'unlimited' plan costs $30 a month, matching the $30 3GB a month plan they currently sell.
  • With a limited plan, the user has an option to buy unthrottled data for an extra $10/GB.

It seems fair, doesn't it?

In many ways, I suppose that it does. AT&Terrible needed a way to make this more fair, and they came up with one. Good move, buck-os.

Except for one thing - customer loyalty.

I once told an AT&Terrible manager on the phone that I don't stay with his service for the call quality, reliability, or widespread coverage (ALL THREE OF THESE SUCK COMPARED TO THE OTHER OPTIONS)...I stay because I stupidly signed a contract to be there and they were the only company that carried the iPhone...and because they still offered unlimited data. And, for the most part, I had good experiences with their customer service (I was approved for two iPhone 4s in the store by a manager...who didn't have to do what he did...after having spent 5 hours on the phone with customer service the weekend before. I greatly appreciated his kindness.).

There is now no advantage to having stayed with AT&Terrible. Looking forward, I'm looked at the same as the guy who has been with the company for 20 years, and the woman who signed the contract last week. Me, who stuck with the company when large numbers of customers declared an exodus to go to Verizon last January, is looked at the same. I have no pull, draw, or extra weight given to my account. I am much like the rest of the world.

I know what you're thinking...that's fair.

But fair isn't what creates great customer interactions. Fair isn't what convices the user to stick with a company. Fair is a nice concept, but it ends up not appearing fair to much of the people who thought they were giving you the benefit of the doubt when the world turned on you. Fair isn't a real thing.

When Apple replaces your iPhone for free when they didn't have to, that's not fair. That's Apple being a stand up company. Does it cost Apple more? Sure. Does it make it harder for them? Sure. Why do they do it? Not because it is or isn't fair. They do it because they want to keep you as a customer and they're going to do everything in their power to convince you to fall in love with their product and company. I go to a certain dry cleaners not because they were fair to me, I went because I liked the work and they went out of their way to make it better, not fair, for me.

Fair is stupid. The world isn't, never was, and never will be fair. It sounds good, it really does. And we are invited to truly believe it. But it simply isn't how American society has ever worked.

Better is what companies should go for. Not fair. Fair is what governments should go for, not companies.

Companies should try to win over consumers. The only reason I stick with AT&Terrible now is because they still have the fastest 3G network. You'd better bet that once Verizon's 4G LTE network takes off on a greater scale (like it already is doing) that AT&Terrible will be fighting for my business.

Because at this point, Unlimited data is simply a thing of the past.

-B

 

My iPad 3 Event Predictions

Last night sucked.

But, the good news is that Wednesday brings a new day and, perhaps more importantly, a new iPad for the whole world to see and bask in the glory of.

It seems a popular pastime to read rumor blogs and sites on days leading up to the big Apple announcements. I do quite a bit, and I suspect that even Joe I-know-nothing Schmo is even remotely aware of some of the features of the new iPad.

My intention is not to guess feature-by-feature, though I will. To me, the new features seem fairly obvious. While Apple has a history and passion for surprising the tech industry with new innovations (who saw the Smart Cover coming?), I suspect that most of what we will see on Wednesday will not be as shocking as other Apple events. I'd like to take some guesses at how the event will roll out. Then, maybe I'll come back here and judge how I did.

  1. The stage is sure to be set with a giant Apple logo on the screen, as it always has been. They'll be playing a mix of Adele and perhaps some other new, hipster artist over the PA. The room will be dark and there'll be some chairs, just as Steve sat in for the original iPad introduction. There'll be some iPad 3s (or whatever they're going to call them) on a table near the side of the stage for demo purposes. They'll, of course, be covered in black sheets.
  2. The lights will dim and Tim Cook, the new CEO, will come out and greet the crowd. Apple typically begins with news about the company and it has been far enough from their quarterly earnings report that they'll have some updated numbers about the business. Tim will run over how well the iPhone and iPad are doing, emphasizing the recently passed 25 billion app downloads. Apple has sold over 50 million iPads, and I suspect that that'll be a large part of the numbers presentation.
  3. Tim will even speak to how well the Apple TV is doing. I should make this clear, I doubt that we will see an actual Apple television set at this keynote. If there is an update to the product line at all, it will likely be an A5 chips that powers it, 1080p output, and perhaps a few more services integrated in. I suspect that they'll announce a new model Apple TV box (one that connects to your TV via HDMI) but it will be a minimal upgrade. This event is about the iPad, not the Apple TV.
  4. Tim will introduce Phil Schiller, Senior Vice President of Worldwise Marketing. Tim Cook is a nice guy and definitely a wiz at organizing a company, but Phil is the presenter. Phil is, in my opinion, the only executive that can hold a candle ate Steve's presentation style. Phil will be the one to introduce the new iPad.
  5. Phil will talk a bit about the success of the iPad and present some very high sales numbers that perhaps Tim had eluded to earlier. Don't bet against them talking about how the tablet competition can't keep up. He will absolutely also talk about the popularity of the new iPad Textbooks and present some spun numbers that will actually be very low but will seem high. Phil can spin numbers like few others.
  6. Then, he will begin to talk about the new iPad. He will talk about how great a product the iPad is and how it is changing the way that people interact with content. He will likely show a video about how the iPad is changing lives. Expect the video to be touching to your senses.
  7. "Then, we thought to ourselves, how can we make this magical device even better? We have come up with a ton of new ways, and we will focus on many of them this morning," he might say. What will it be called? My guess is either the iPad 3 or, more likely, the iPad 2S. He will show it and it will look a whole lot like and iPad 2.
  8. "The first revolutionary change...our unbelievable Retina Display. The Retina Display on the iPhone 4, 4S, and iPod touch is just gorgeous. It's something you have to see to really believe. It's the only display that truly lets you read from your phone as if you were reading from a printed page. It is phenomenal. Now, we are bringing that display to the iPad. It doubles every pixel to present things you might never have imagined. It make reading on the iPad the most enjoyable reading experience you've ever had." Apple keynotes are known for their superb use of hyperbole.
  9. Demo of the Retina display a la the iPhone 4 announcement. Hopefully without the "Turn off your wifi" moment.
  10. Next, the dual-core A5X processor. Phil will talk about how fast it is, dual core, with updated graphics. I'd imagine the new graphics will be about 7-9x the graphics performance of the iPad 2. "This thing just screams. And, mixing this with the retina display creates an amazing gaming experience." Also, I expect an update to the iMovie for iPad software.
  11. Demo of the A5X processor, done by game makers like the makers of infinity blade or Electonic Arts. If new iMovie software, a demo would go here as well.
  12. Next, Cameras. The iPad 2 cameras are horrible for everything but FaceTime, so a camera update is entirely needed. I'd expect a camera upgrade to the level of the iPhone 4, but not the 4S. They'll show some gorgeous pictures of what can be done with the iPad cameras.
  13. Along with that, a new app. iPhoto. Scott Forstall will likey come out for this. The photos app for iPad is simply unable to do anything like iPhoto for the Mac can do. Because Apple insists on photos being tied down to apps, the third-party offerings are insufficient. I don't expect this to be a separate purchasable app, this will be an updated version of the 'Photos' app that already resides on your iPad.
  14. Next, Siri. Siri, at least for dictation, makes too much sense to leave it out. Scott will either stay out or Phil will welcome him back out to talk about how much better Siri has gotten and how pleased customers are with it. They'll do a thorough demo of Siri and if I were you, I'd expect several new functions for Siri that will ship on the iPad 2S. Perhaps coming later via a software update to iPhone 4Ss. Sorry iPhone 4 users, I doubt Siri is ever coming to your phone. iPads are used differently that iPhones so this will be an interesting place for innovation on Apple's part.
  15. Next, LTE. Phil will be back. He will talk about the popularity of the 3G iPads and how quickly companies like Verizon are building out their LTE networks. I suspect that the 3G in these models will be like the iPhone 4S and be compatible with both GSM and CDMA. Not sure what to guess about whether or not you will still have to choose Verizon, AT&T or Sprint, like you do on the phone. No contracts though, that's for sure.
  16. Battery life. The iPad 2S will have the same 10 hour battery life. Which, if you think about it, is quite a feat.
  17. Then Phil will talk about price. Price is easy. $499 16GB. $599 32GB. $699 64 GB. Add $129 to each to get the Wifi+3G+LTE versions. Same pricing as before. The iPad 2 will continue to remain available for $399 at 16GB only.
  18. And that'll be it. There could be some sort of surprise attachment or accessory, but for the most part, the event will be pretty standard. Phil will invite everyone to the hands on demo center and a few lucky journalists will go home with loaner models with which to reveal.
  19. Release date? I'm guessing March 16th. If they do a pre-order (unlikely), it will start on the 9th.

I think people are going to feel Steve's absence. The last product announcement was a day before Steve's death and I just suspect that it'll be felt worse here than before.

I think some will come away feeling disappointed with the event, because it won't be as flashy as we expect. The Retina Display is going to be amazing and the device is going to truly scream. The graphics will be astounding and there's surely some exciting new software possibilites coming. All in all though, I wouldn't expect to be blown out of the water.

If all this comes true, would this be a device worth getting? Definitely. Worth updating form our iPad 2? Maybe. One thing is for sure, they're going to sell a lot of them. Millions. And they'll sell them fast.

Would you get one of these iPads?

 

-B

 

Why Apple's Supply Chain Problem is Such a Big Deal

If you clicked this link, your thought was likely, "Bryant's a fanboy, let's see what kind of spin he puts on this horrific topic." Or, you might be someone who has tweeted to me, emailed to me, or trolled my Facebook timeline with this NY Times article released the other day.

The gist of the article is this: Apple employs hundred of thousands of poor Chinese workers who spend their entire lives connecting cables inside of iPhones for very little pay. The article goes further than that though, too. The article makes the pronouncement that Apple cares very little about the working conditions of their supply chain and you should feel guilty for owning an iPhone, iPad, or iPod. Here's a taste:

Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

Tim Cook, the newly appointed CEO, made it clear in an email to employees that he was 'outraged' by the accusations that the article made and was deeply offended. It's not hard to see why...The New York Times and Apple have mostly had a very cordial relationship. The NYT's website is included in iOS's default bookmarks and Steve often visited their site first when demoing a new product. The Times was quick to adopt the iPad as a way of releasing their content and the relationship has worked for the betterment of both companies. Everything seemed fine.

Until this.

Even today, the BSR, who is quoted heavily throughout the Times's piece refuted much of its claims. I suspect that we haven't seen anywhere near the end of this.

As a point of reference, here's a short clip of Steve Jobs reacting to the Wall Street Journal's questions regarding the suicides and suicide attempts by Foxconn employees a while back:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gOu50HaEvs&w=640&h=385]

Again, we haven't heard the end of this. As we shouldn't.

The poor workers. They're worked hard, worse than many Americans will ever work, and when Apple wants to lower production costs and raise quality of the products, something's got to give. The media is beginning to claim that the cost of these two desires is human lives and well being. In fact, the NYT titled their piece, "In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad."

It's linkbait, but it starts a good conversation. Why is this so important? Why does Apple take the heat?

Sure, it's because theyre bigger than everyone else. That's what got Nike in so much trouble. Sure, it's because they are a hugely profitable company. They made more in profit than Google brought in total last quarter. Sure, it's because people love their products. But I think this has become a bigger deal for another reason.

I think it's because their products speak a bit of hope.

Andy Crouch referred to this phenomenon when he spoke about the gospel that Steve Jobs preached in a piece immediately following Steve's death. I don't agree with the correlations that Andy drew throughout the entire piece, but his general thesis is good. Steve had a different, often better, way of envisioning how a human interacts with a product. (Andy's piece comes off a bit harsh at times, though I know that Andy is an Apple fan because when I saw him speak live once he referred to his MacBook Pro as the true representation of 'perfection' on earth.)

Apple's mindset has always been about Thinking Differently. Using a computer sucked until 1984 when the Macintosh was introduced. MP3 players sucked until 2001 when the iPod and iTunes made it possible to actually enjoy listening to digital music. Cell phones sucked until 2007 when the iPhone finally made a smart phone easy to use. Tablets sucked until 2010 when the iPad reimagined what a tablet was and how humans interact with it.

Steve's quotes. Apple's marketing campaigns. The products themselves. All of these presented nearly hyperbolic statements about what it was like to use an Apple computer and how much there was to love about them. Sites like "CultofMac.com" and documentaries like "Mac Heads" and terms like "fanboy" are signs of the effectiveness of this message. (I'll admit, I often get accused of buying into the Apple gospel more than the Jesus Gospel. I'd argue that that might be because Apple is better at presenting it than our churches are right now, but that's an argument for another day...)

When you use an iPhone, you fall in love with it. Or, most people do. Apple is no longer an electronic company; they become an ideology, a mindset, and a way of life. Apple has engrained this "Think Different" message into our understandings of who they are as a company. When we love their products, we want to believe that the truly are better than everyone else. In every single aspect.

Yet this Foxconn situation seems to be the same as everyone else. I remember getting in trouble at a young age and my first response was to say that 'everyone else was doing it!' To which my parents were quick to point out, "Perhaps, but you're better than that." These poor (literally) workers in these factories are indicative of what is wrong with the world we're in and we'd like to think that Apple can rise above those problems. For God's sake, they've risen above it with all of their products!

I hope Tim and Steve are (were :-( ) right that they are actively working to take greater measures in treating their workers fairly. They're certainly working to spread a good word about how much better they are than many other suppliers. I hope that what they say is true, is true, and that it will continue to get better quickly.

Apple has nearly $100 Billion in the bank. If there is one company who can actually Think Different when it comes to this type of labor ethics, it's Apple. They have the means.

I'd like to see them turn this around. Not just politically. Not just through marketing. I'd like to see them make gigantic strides and stand up for the right and well being of humans.

Because that's what Apple does. They Think Different.

Please, dear God, don't let that thought leave with Steve.

-B

Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates

This was shown to me by a 'friend':

I'll simply respond by the same comment I posted to his page:  

Both were ruthless businessmen who have changed the world in unimaginable ways. One, more or less, ripped off the other's uses of a technology already at use by a company who didn't know what to do with it.    This representation, of course, is a person's rendering of each person's 'morality' and no more than propaganda, but continue on mein führer...

    That is all.   -B

The Death of the UMC #explo2011

I've had over 63 pages of writing due in the last two weeks.  It's funny that we often describe Divinity School as "Hell on Earth."  Currently, I'm tired of writing my theology paper.  Thus, I am taking a break to do this. I attended Exploration 2011 this weekend in St. Louis.  Exploration is a conference for about 600 young, college-aged, United Methodist adults who are exploring (hence the title) a call into some sort of ministry.  It serves several purposes:

  • Encourage young people to explore their calls into ministry,
  • Explain the ordination process,
  • Educate attendees about different methods and modes of ministry,
  • Provide reflection time in small groups to discuss,
  • Enable UMC young-adults from around to the world to meet each other, converse, worship, and fellowship.
In addition, all of the United Methodist Seminaries (13 in all) were represented by staff and student alike, providing information, sweet giveaways, and advice to potential seminary students.  I'm already a seminary student, but I was not a rep from Duke.  I was an attendee.  But, you know, I wore Duke stuff everyday.
Friday night's preacher in worship was none other than Adam Hamilton, the pastor of the largest United Methodist church in the world, Church of the Resurrection.  Adam has been promoted through churches like WillowCreek and is easily the best known United Methodist pastor in today's culture.  He spoke well, clearly, and with passion.  He encouraged young people to truly consider ministry for the good of the Church. If a quick search of the Twitter hashtags "explo2011" says anything, his message reverberated with a large percentage of the attendees that night.
One of Adam's main focuses: The United Methodist Church's decline.  It does little good to bore you with insignificant stats that prove this thesis.  Instead, this general point can be made: If the rate of decline in membership in the United Methodist church continues, the UMC will not be in existence in 2050.

Gone. No more.  One of the denominations on which Christian culture was established in the United States will have vanished.

It won't have been the first time a denomination that has been so influential in our history has declined. Or died.
Adam discussed a crucial point, too.  He admitted that our goal ought not to be to save a denomination, or religious group.  He pointed out, more or less, that our goal should be to make disciples. And, as United Methodists, we believe that the Wesleyan way of discipleship is the best, most effective way to do this.  By reaching into our Wesleyan core (which, from my observations, seems to be - at the most - ambiguously articulated in a majority of UM churches across the globe) we may discover new ways of changing the world through disciples of Jesus. I agree, but I do think that and established church has at least the possibility of bringing this on (This is obviously widely disproved throughout the course of history, but a man has to have a little faith, right?)
I'll quote Vance Rains here,

Does anyone here, including myself, really know how to save the United Methodist Church?

All I can do, as a new comer to this movement, is observe. I can tell you what I think the church is doing well.  I can definitely tell you what the church is not doing well.

And for me, it seems to be summed up in this: We aren't skating to where the puck will be.

This phrase is attributed to Wayne Gretsky (though I'm unsure if he actually said it) and was one of the favorites of the late Steve Jobs.  Jobs wanted to move ahead. So, to do that, he moved ahead…taking great ideas from other people and fusing them with his own.  Through this, he innovated and created products people didn't know they wanted. Like Henry Ford, he created phones without keyboards, tablets without styluses, and computers without disc drives. Ford is claimed to have said, "If I'd have asked the customers, they'd have said they wanted a faster horse."

But the UMC doesn't seem to be doing that.  The UMC doesn't seem to be taking old ideas, mixing them with new ones, and coming out with something effective. The UMC doesn't seem to be thinking creatively. The UMC doesn't seem to be not only listening and reading their Wesleyan heritage, but synthesizing it to create something that will serve the needs of the world. No, it doesn't seem to be doing that.

And that's ok.  Research In Motion isn't doing that either. But come five years, they won't be around.

Wesley was an innovator.  Wesley was clear about what he thought.  Wesley knew of effective ways of maintaining accountability in discipleship.  Wesley knew of positive ways to change the world.  Wesley knew that the power behind religious revival was in a movement. And Wesley should get a lot of credit for thinking differently than many, many others in his time.

I think United Methodists recognize this. And I do think, as a General Church, the UMC is trying to be relevant.

It's just that our methodology seems a little screwy.

Our version of "relevancy" seems to be based on what the Reformed or evangelical churches are doing. And we, as we always have been, are behind.  Seriously behind. And sometimes we throw resources into the wrong areas.  We staff the wrong places. We don't always hire the best in the field.

So no wonder our attempts at things are less successful.  We're creating the hi-PHONE instead of the iPhone.  We're trying to play contemporary music, but it's just not…quite…right…yet.

I think it is happening this way: through desperation, we are copying others.  20 years ago, we saw the evangelical denominations growing faster than us. So we decided something had to change.  We waited around for 5 years to make a decision to do so and then we got to work. We started marketing campaigns (I would say, some of the more successful things we've done). We started rethinking who we were. Why? Because we saw others do it.  I ask of you: how different are those rethink church commercials, really, than those billboards from non-denominational groups that advertise a "new way to do church"? They're only different in that they are more socially minded (a good a righteous thing), but our attitude is much the same. "Oh, God, they're undercutting us by stripping down some of the perceived ridiculousness of our liturgy and system," we might as well have said.

The funny part is, the ReThink Church commercials are easily one of the best things the Church has done, in my opinion.  I think we've called on people to question some things that ought to be questioned.  It just appears to have had little follow through.

Which gets me to my point.  We copy others. AND THAT'S FINE.  But, in our copying, we aren't thorough.  We write things like "Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds" when large percentages of our church simply don't believe it. We try to be relevant, but many of our churches are much, much older than other churches.  So, we try to do things in our old buildings that just aren't practically possible.  And the product of our efforts doesn't look "cool" like we think it does.  It looks like a cheap knock off. And people, congregants, don't see authentic worship, they see posers (something our culture is less and less tolerant of everyday).  They see people faking what's popular.  They see BOBS instead of TOMS.  They see Samsung instead of Apple. We're ripping off others, and to make it worse…we're not even doing it well. (At least Samsung stuff still looks good)

Instead, perhaps, maybe we ought to truly rethink church.  Not basing it off of our own social values.  Not basing it off of our own bias.  Not basing it off of our own thoughts.  Not basing it off of our own Scriptural interpretation. Not basing it off of our own political beliefs.  Not basing it off of our own definitions.

Because the Wesley that I read doesn't seem to have been ripping anybody off. Wesley seems to have been starting something new, incorporating the traditional values, thoughts, concepts, and theological insights of the old tradition to bring about a revival that focused on holiness in discipleship. That movement is what helped influence the Christian culture in America.  And his thoughts were so good, I'm convinced there's another opportunity, if only we'd wake up.

Picasso said, "Good artists copy.  Great artists steal."  There's a huge difference between the two, and I'm unconvinced that the UMC understands that.

So please, let's not put up a GPS (or phone…we had disagreements about what it was) around the lyrics being projected on the screen unless we're going to take the time to actually explain it, incorporate it, and usefully employ it. Otherwise, it looks like we saw the evangelical churches using the iPhone theme for their events and thought, "Oh, God, we're behind." Which, I'd imagine, is exactly what happened.

If we're going to do it, we need to do it well.  Otherwise, we're going to die.

Like Vance, I don't know what is going to save the church.  But, I do feel as if I'll know when I see it. And I know this from observation: we can't keep following everyone else.  We have never been like that as a church and this is an awful time to start. We ought to seriously rethink who we are, where we're going, and where we've been. We make corrections, we synthesize, and we move on…making the best, most faithful decisions we can as fast as we can. And we have to do it throughly, with class, artistry, energy, and resources.  Every detail has to be ironed out so that what we say is cohesive and intentional. And we don't need to try to be "cool."  That'll come to us, if we are who we are and the story is as good as we say it is.  And, friends, it is.

Please, it's too good of a story not to tell in new and fresh ways. And besides, Jesus is calling us to tell it.

-B

AutoTuned Siri

Ever wondered what Siri would sound like AutoTuned. Wonder no more.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53my-LM23wI&w=640&h=385]

Funny work. Catchy progression.

-B

Apple's Ruthless Ad Campaigns

Steve Jobs used to explain Apple something like this

Our goal is really simple, we like to make GREAT products for people. Then, we tell people about them. If they like them, we get to come to work tomorrow. It's really simple.

Apple has had quite a few iconic ad campaigns since its inception. With the exception of the 1984 commercial, they buy A LOT of air time.

Here's the newest addition (expect to see much more from where this came from):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uS6d7fsPnM]

In the biography by Walter Isaacson, Steve is quoted as saying this before he passed:

“I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong,” Jobs said. “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

If you want to watch a good fight, this is going to be a good one.

Apple is ready to battle and they have the resources and infrastructure to do it.

It began with those Samsung lawsuits. Now it is time for the ads. Again, I'd expect to see a ton of these ads in the near future.

-B

Are We Better Off With or Without Apple?

Since Steve's passing, the world has honored him at Apple Stores, via social media, via television talk shows, and countless other ways.

The world, even Apple haters, has been kind to honor the work and change he's made.

But, now, it's been a few days. And we've all had a small chance to grieve. And we've all had a small chance to reflect a bit on his direct impact on OUR lives. It is like when Michael died, we all grieved because the world had lost another Mozart; then we began to reflect on what kind of difference was made on our personal lives. For some it was sad to lose Michael, but not for too long. The same has been true of Steve, for some.

He's been compared quite a bit to Thomas Edison, the famed inventor of the light bulb. I was asked this question the other day, "Edison created the light bulb, how does Steve even begin to compare to that?" My honest first reaction was to automatically assume that the asker simply doesn't think about what they do day in and day out.

To me, the impact is simple to see: almost everything that consumers do with computers today has so much to do with Steve's work. He was the driving force behind making the graphical user interface popular (a paradigm we take hugely for granted today...I think my evidence above proves it). He made using computers simple, and I'd argue that that is what brought forth widespread adoption. Because of some of Apple's poor decisions and Microsoft's willingness to copy, it happened indirectly...but it was Steve who did it.

This morning, the point was raised to me,

"i[sic] think he was brilliant for sure but are we better off as a people to have the newest toy but as a whole we are going broke to afford them.[sic] i[sic] think these things have made a much more selfish world that are[sic] self centered and spoiled."

It's a fair point with a certain amount of validity. There are also many claims going on here:

  • Steve simply made the newest toys
  • We are going broke to afford them
  • These things have made a much more selfish world
  • This selfish world is self centered and spoiled (apparently because of the devices Steve has created)

Again, it's a fair argument. I know there are families that struggle to feed themselves each night, but give their kids smartphones. I know, and have acknowledged in the past, that texting and driving has become one of the most dangerous parts of our lives.

The main point though, I think, is that Apple's marketing has encouraged people to want the next big thing all the time. Our emotional draw to the company has forced us to wait in long lines, complain excessively, and stop everything we are doing for product announcements. Yes, it's true and each any every one of those statements applies directly to me.

I think it would be fair to account that a large objection to the future and progress of technology can be summed up inside of this argument: these things (and the marketing of them) have made us worse people.

I think I've recognized the bit of truth to this argument. We text instead of call. We avoid face to face confrontation if at all possible. We have gained a new sense of individualism, and less of a sense of community. I might argue that things like Skype and FaceTime have actually counteracted this argument, but I'll leave it be for the time being.

The question for me though is, "Who is to blame?"

The Church has discussed this for ages. The questions has always been, "Are we a part of the culture or are we not?" or "Is progress good or bad?" or "Can we have material things, or should we deny ourselves?" or "How is Scripture interpreted for this purpose?"

Throughout time, religion has made use of new mediums. In example, George Whitefield's popularity in early American Christianity is largely due to the newspaper reports of his preaching. There are tons more examples.

Isn't it a question now in the Church as well? We've got churches who attract more members because of their light shows and moving backgrounds. We've also got churches who speak down on these churches and worship in a very liturgical, high church way. Both have dying churches. Both have growing churches.

This argument currently going on in the Church is not separate from the argument made to me this morning.

However, even more high church churches are beginning to figure out how to relate to people. They sometimes break it down by "worship" vs. "outreach". For example, it's ok to have a website, because people want to know about you...but no computers in a worship service. But...even that's becoming less and less true.

I know where your mind is going..."Who is winning?"

STOP

This isn't about winning. This is about living a Christ-like life. This is about hearing a call from God. This is about Resurrection and Salvation.

I am convinced that these things, these most important things, are still possible with progress.

I actually think that progress helps these things. For instance, because of the advent and popularity of texting, we have been reminded that living, talking, and being in community is important. And now, now that we know this, we are able to use these new fangled inventions and technologies as tools instead of distractions.

Sure, these tools have the ability to distract, and ARE VERY TEMPTING in this sense. But, what if the Church were to look at these tools as better ways to communicate, as better ways to outreach, and as better ways to live as disciples in 2011?

What exactly are we afraid of? That we won't be creative enough to figure it out? That God won't show us the way? We've got to have more faith than that.

What I like so much about Apple's approach to technology is that they don't do things just because others did. They don't make a bigger screen just because others have bigger screens. They don't implement a voice recognition piece of software just because Google did. They don't have an open platform just because other companies did.

No, they approach it from the perspective of use. What good is voice to text software if you still have to hit buttons? What good is a big screen if you have to use two hands to use it and it no longer fits in your pocket? What good is an open platform if its very openness is one if its greatest downfalls as an experience? It's not even really about being ahead of the game...it's about taking a technology, a concept, an idea and applying it in a real world situation for a real purpose in a way that helps people communicate. That's what spurred Steve's innovation. That's what defines who Apple is in today's world.

So has Apple's marketing asked people to become self centered? Their new iPad ads don't seem to support that.

No, it doesn't seem so. No, what has spurred on this idea is our reaction. I can no longer blame the technology companies for my failings as a human. I can no longer blame McDonald's for the hot coffee I spilled on my lap. I can no longer blame the cigarette companies for my lung cancer (post-revelations that that was actually bad for you). I can no longer blame the city for me not paying attention to that huge stop sign. I can no longer blame the fast food companies for my fatness. I can no longer blame the Church for my lack of faith.

No. Because at some point, I must take up my own cross. At some point, I must learn that it's not the new things that bother us...it's the way we use them. It's not the progress that makes us worse people...it's our sinful nature. It's not someone else's fault that I'm not the disciple I could be, it's me.

(It's worth adding that this is mostly true in America, currently. There are places in our world where girls are used in conjunction with the exploitation of men's sexual desires. This is not the girls' fault, this is the both the faults of the brainwashers above them, and the men who readily support these ventures.) I, in these cases, think the Church has to speak up for the girls...speak up for those who can't. It is still worth noting that those reading this in American CAN almost assuredly speak for ourselves.

As soon as the Church realizes that our mission is active and not passive and that we are not controlled by others, but only influenced by the grace of God through Christ, then we will be able to look at our culture with new glasses...in a way that is beneficial to the life of faith and the progress of the Gospel.

We don't do things just because. We don't slobber at the feet of our favorite company just because they brainwash us. No, we appreciate what they do because it makes a difference. It changes what we can do. It changes how we do things. It's up to us to be able to step back and see where we have succeeded and faltered.

Apple made tools. Thankfully, they made good tools.

Let's use them for good. Please.

-B

PS - Lack of recognition of Steve's contributions to society is a great example of just how well he succeeded.

He Is Gone.

There are no words to fully describe the sadness within my heart and the hearts of the world. I will miss him, his taste, and his vision for the future.

I am always reminded at moments like this of the nastiness of disease, cancer, and other human afflictions. It is most appropriate that he has been most likely THE largest instigator of technology in a world where we work to rid cancer, disease, hunger, and many other things. His insight has garnered a passion for an industry that has changed the world.

Steve had lots of money. Nothing could buy him out of his illness. But, now, he can rest in a state not concerned with fleshly afflictions. Cancer did not beat him, it inspired him to live every day like it was his last. We may never know how the last 6 or 7 years may have played out if he had not struggled as he did.

We must, at this time...in our sadness, be thankful for all he has given us, contributed to our world, and inspired us to do.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Think Different.

-B

Deaf Woman Hears Her Voice for the First Time and Doesn't JUST Change Her Life, but Changes Ours As Well

You've all seen this, but I had to post it, because I tear up every time I see it.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsOo3jzkhYA&w=640&h=385]

ABCFamily's Switched At Birth is the greatest television series considering the deaf world I've seen, I think. It has a different take on being deaf than this video seems to portray, but it still seems to be a video worth watching. No matter your feelings on "curing" deafness, this video portrays why I tend to be a fan of progress and technology, no matter if it is in my cell phone (think Stevie Wonder's thanks to Steve Jobs) or in the saving of a life through medicine.

As a musician, I often take my ability to hear and gift to hear differently for granted far more than I'd ever admit to. This type of video often reminds me of the important things in life.

-B

"OH MY GOD, ROB BELL IS RUINING OUR LIVES!!!!"

Rob Bell announced yesterday that he and Carleton Cuse (of LOST fame) will be writing a TV show that has been picked up by ABC. He and his family are moving to Los Angeles from Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is only now appropriate for his Mars Hill family to wish him "Farewell, Rob Bell". I wish him serious luck. Hollywood is a mean, ripyouupeatyoursoulandthrowyououtwiththedogs kind of business and if the show doesn't play well, you'll be able to buy all ten episodes of "The Complete Series" at Target for $39.99 in a year or so.

Most Christians I know have become very cynical of this news. Wait, the word "cynical" is too generous.

I've been thinking, though, what my reaction might be if I was all the various types of Christians out there. These are generalized statements and intended to be humorous, so don't get too angry if you fit into these categories:

Reformed Piper Followers - "This guy has been going off the deep end for a long time. When will he learn that Love is not for everyone and that God picks and chooses who He saves? Farewell, Rob Bell. Welcome to your life of fame."

Roman Catholics - "These evangelicals will never understand that the Church, even above God, AND DEFINITELY NOT TV is at the center of all things good in the world."

Nondenominational hip Churches - "Dang, wish we could have thought of that. I guess our Twitter account won't cut it anymore."

United Methodists - "Hey, will someone tell us what to think of this? We can't seem to make up our minds about anything important."

Mormons - "He thinks a TV show is an effective way to change the world? Why doesn't he just run for President?"

Southern Baptists - "At least it's not a woman."

Passion 20somethings - "When can we get Chris and Louie on a TV show?"

Divinity Students - "Bell is too centered on himself and his megachurch obviously isn't big enough for him anymore. Down with the megachurch! Down with the megachurch!"

It seems absurd to me that so many of us might be so quick to judge because of a few website headlines we read. Bell is a phenomenal, charismatic, well-read communicator who happens to have followed a call into ministry off of a chance preaching opportunity years ago. He's been picked as one of the most influential pastors in America and has made it his mission to welcome back those hurt by the church by incorporating relevant and trendy cultural points into his sermons and speaking engagements.

Beyond that, Bell is controversial and not afraid to be so. He borders on being more "spiritual" and less "Jesusy" with the hopes that if he can attract people to a new way of life and understanding of Scripture, he can make better disciples. This, because it seems to be less traditional, is controversial. But Bell is not afraid to be so. People respect that, and because he is quite charismatic, and they follow him. The strongest argument against him is that he lost Jesus, but if you study him carefully...you'll find that it's simply not true. Jesus is a significant part of Bell's theology, rightly so.

Bell isn't as anti-traditional as some have made him out to be. I've seen nearly all of his videos and listened to countless sermons of his and I've rarely come across some sort of exegetical insight that I strongly disagreed with (at last not any more than you might find in any mainline church in any town in America).

It's time we stop thinking of religious innovators (and while that term probably does mean progress, it DOES NOT mean a loss of tradition) as inherently "bad". We must judge the preacher on the content and gifts and less on how we view people who have the same church-style.

And beyond all that, it's time we start approaching ministry and those attempting it from a positive stance, and only after that criticizing his/her work from an understanding of their theology, and not from our own personal bias.

If we fight inside these walls and don't go out there, they'll always find another one. Something is wrong...something is terribly wrong.

-B

Steve Jobs on The Future and Perhaps, iCloud

I'm reminded today of this video from 1997. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yE3Ta_NK4-I&]

In it, Steve describes his computer setup at the time between his offices at Apple, NeXT, Pixar, and his home. This technology (and implementation of it) has been in use by institutions, corporations, and many other places for years now.

What strikes me is that it may have taken this long to get to iCloud (Apple's closest offering of something like this) where it will be in a few weeks, but this idea is finally coming to instantly, always connected smartphones, tablets, and laptops. No more reliance on ethernet, no more being tied down to a computer at a desk.

Google is trying this (and has been) with their Chromebooks and their wide assortment of online apps, but Apple is doing it in a way where the code is actually compiled on the device itself, rather than the device just being an outlet to a server. Apple's implementation will undoubtedly be more reliable, but it'll be interesting to see which approaches garners more attention.

Microsoft is doing much the same thing with their Office 365 approach, but they currently charge for it. Apple's will be free for any iOS device owner and sync between them and their Macs or PCs.

I'm looking forward to it. You?

 

-B

Thoughts on the New Facebook or, "STOP CHANGING, FACEBOOK!"

Yesterday, Reed Hastings (CEO of Netflix) included this statement in his apology letter to Netflix's customers:

For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn't make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us).

(Keep this thought process in the back of your mind for now. We'll get back to it)

Today, Google opened up Google+ up to everybody (something I argue they should have done since the beginning), including anyone without an invite.

Coincidently (or perhaps not so) Facebook made some significant changes to their layout, functionality, and design over the past week. We all know the one constant in our lives: when Facebook makes a change, the whole world complains.

Without a doubt, the changes Facebook made are significant. The way stories show up in a news feed is almost completely different and they've now instituted an extra "creeper bar" (not mine or Facebook's terminology) to show the user what's going on with their friends, in real time.

Most of the comments I've heard are not based around the design factors, the content, the creepiness, or anything else.  No, the comments I've heard have almost all been monolithic: "STOP CHANGING, FACEBOOK!"

I suppose that somewhere inside of all of us is an inherent desire to remain comfortable. I suppose we all want to stick with what we have.  It is the same reason that sooooo many people are still running Windows XP. If something costs money and is likely to make things more confusing, people are likely to forego it if at all possible.

What occurred to me, though, was that no one complains about Windows coming out with a new OS because it changes(I have it, more comments later on it). No one complains about Apple coming out with a new OS because it changes.  Why? Probably because it costs money to upgrade. **I'll forego, at this time, my argument that everyone should upgrade (except for Windows Vista) to a new Operating System whenever possible.**

But with Facebook, you don't get a choice.  They upgrade your account and Facebook experience for you, without your permission.  And no, they didn't ask you first.

And Facebook is free. They control what you can and can't do (no matter how much we convince ourselves that we are in control of our own information) and we are their mercy.

So why the problem? Why the complaints?

Because Facebook has to change. Because there was this little company that started a social network with a dumb bird as a logo that is growing at unbelievable speeds. And because one of the biggest companies in the world that seemingly controls all of the information on the internet and how we find it decided to create a pretty good competitor to the big FBook.

And, people don't have a lot of loyalty to Facebook.  They don't have any money invested in it. And switching networks will become more feasible as more people are on both.

There's a threat at hand. Facebook is facing an enemy, one who is trying to steal their user base. This hurts page views.  This hurts ad clicks.  This hurts profits.  This hurts their business model.

They can't remain stagnate. No one can.

The best thing a Facebook user can do is to accept the fact that one of the biggest things they're addicted to in the world is really, at its heart, a competitive business and nothing more. Zuckerberg might try to sell you on their "connect everyone better" mission, but they won't survive without money. Like any capitalistic group, Facebook is a business and needs to stay that way to move any further. When people invade their turf, they're going to fight back with everything they can because...they simply have to.

The better question ought to be, "How can you change, make yourself more useful, and still maintain a simplistic atmosphere moving forward..one that doesn't confuse people?"

This is what Google has nailed. When they came into the search scene, they didn't just stay with search. They made themselves better.  They evolved.  They made themselves more useful. But, when you're trying to find something on Google.com, there's no question as to where to start typing.

None.

-B

How the Netflix Disaster Really Went Down

Netflix is facing a lot of heat, even AFTER Reed Hasting's (their CEO) email yesterday apologizing to the entire Netflix community about how he handled this. The wonderful world of JoyOfTech provides insider information on how this all went down. Original post here.

20110920-063648.jpg

Sure seems to be what they were thinking. I tend to think Reed knows what he is doing, and he is fighting an uphill battle against the content companies, who keep demanding more and more and more money.

It'll be interesting to see how it shakes out.

-B