29 June 2008

Reflections -- 29 June 2008

'The sun rises on the just and the unjust'.  So then, does not the grace of God also shine upon the 'just and the unjust'?  Are we to limit upon whom God bestows grace?  God forbid.  God's gift of grace can not be less than God's gift of nature.  It must be more.

'The very rising of the sun each morning is a gift of God, given for the whole of creation, no less than the gift of redemption, given to restore creation to it's essential well-being'.

J Philip Newell, The Book of Creation, pg. 42

New Theme

What do you think about the new theme?  I really like it.  The sole reason for the last theme was the font.  I like the dark and the nice green header.  What I like about dark themes, if not too dark, is that they seem easier to read.  A light text on a dark background seems easier on my eyes.

Anyway, I hope you like it.

Peace be with you.


28 June 2008

Linux Mint 5

It's been a while since I did a technological (read: geek) blog, so I thought I would update you on what's going on.

As you are aware, I am a full-fledged geek by trade and passion and I have gone from Windows to Mac to Linux.  My Linux evolution went from Linspire to Mepis to PCLinuxOS to Ubuntu.  I stayed with PCLinuxOS and Ubuntu for the longest.  However, I have always read good things about another distribution called Linux Mint.  It's based on the latest Ubuntu release but with a lot of add-ons.  The latest version is called Linux Mint 5, Elyssa.  So, at the office, I downloaded the latest iso and tried it out to see how it all worked.

First of all, there are always some things I keep in mind when trying any new Linux distro, the primary thing being, 'How would the average user feel about using this OS?'  'Is it (very) simple to install?  Is it easy to use?  Is it easy to get help?  Is it easy to add or remove applications?  Is the terminal (command line) used a lot?'  In my opinion, all of these are valid questions, especially if I am looking to recommend an open source alternative to proprietary software or hardware.  Which I am always looking for.  Some of my clients are non-profit companies that don't have a lot of extra funds or could use existing funds in a different way instead of spending it on software licensing.

So, how does Mint answer those questions?  Extremely well, actually.  I don't have a lot of knowledge with Mint, so I read through the release notes and downloaded the User Manual.  From what I have gathered, Linux Mint started a couple of years ago as mainly a way of getting multimedia codecs in Ubuntu.  However, it quickly became a thing of it's own and has been a favorite distro for many people and winning new fans every day (including me).

One of the things that sets Mint apart from other distros is it's mintMenu.  Upon first glance, I thought this was just the same slider menu found in Suse and in the new KDE4.  But upon further investigation, I found that it's something altogether different.  Something that I enjoy about the mintMenu is a new feature this release, something I have not seen in any other OS, whether it's another Linux distro or Mac or Windows.  Let's say you found an app that you really don't need or want.  How does one uninstall it?  It's very easy with mintMenu.  Just click on the menu like normal and find the app.

Then, right click on the app and select 'Uninstall' from the pop-up menu.

Mint then opens a window showing the application (and dependencies, if any) to be removed.  To remove it/them, just click 'Remove'.

And that's it.  Simple, right?  Right.  And that is a major thing I look for in a distro, simplicity.  And to me, Linux Mint comes through with flying colors.

[SUGGESTIONS: I would like to see the application that is selected highlighted.  As can be seen in the second screen shot, we aren't really sure which app is to be removed.  Keeping the app highlighted would be nice.  Also, I would like to see the wording the same.  That is, have both places say either 'uninstall' or 'remove'.  Consistency is a big deal for a new person wading into the uncharted waters of Linux and anything that is worded different (even if it means the same thing) makes some people uneasy.]

Since I'm trying this at the office, I need a different email client to interact with the Microsoft Exchange server.  This application is called 'Evolution'.  It works very well with Exchange and has all the features I need on a daily basis.  To install this app (and any other one you might need) you would launch the 'Software Portal' from the menu.  This opens an app called mintInstall.

Just type in the app you are looking for and it will then open Firefox to the Software Portal page.  Select the app from the portal and click 'Install now'.

You will be asked what to do with the file and you just accept the default (open with mintInstall).  MintInstall then asks you if you are certain you want to install the app and where to install it.  Keep everything as is and click the 'Install' button.

After a few minutes, it will install and appear in the menu.

Another thing I like is mintUpdate.  This is an application that keeps your system minty fresh!  First of all, it runs in the background and checks (as often or as few times as you want) to see if there are any updates to your system.  And not only the OS, but all the apps installed through the proper channels.  Here again is where Mint shines.

As can be seen, the menu is very well thought out and non-geek language is used which, again, makes it better for the end user.  As Mr Rogers said, 'Simple is better.'  MintUpdate does that very well.

One of the things I want to touch on is the 'Level' column.  There are five different levels of an update.  To quote the release notes:

  • Prefer level 1 and 2 upgrades to be safe and only apply level 3, 4 and 5 upgrades selectively and after you made sure they fixed a bug you needed fixed.

  • Always use mintUpdate to perform package upgrades, avoid to do so with APT or Synaptic; these tools are not aware of the stability level related to package upgrades.

I will state, however, that I have used level 3 upgrades without issue.

[SUGGESTION: Just another wording consistency issue.  I would prefer if they either used 'update' or 'upgrade'.  Since the app is called 'mintUpdate', I would like to see 'update' used throughout the app.]

I could go on and on.  Most of what people do when they review a new distro is talk about how to install it, how to update it, how to install/remove applications, etc.  All of this can be found in the Users Manual.  It is a great resource that is very easy to follow.

Personally, I have found Mint to be the best distro I've used.  It makes the switch from Windows very easy.  Which is the whole point, especially for my line of work.  Mint comes with all of the features of the other distros I've used: Firefox, OpenOffice, etc. so you can use it with other systems in a network settings, be that a home network or an enterprise.  I was so impressed by this distro, I installed on my home system.  It has replaced Ubuntu and I haven't been happier.

My only hesitation is the same one I had with PCLinuxOS -- it seems that there is only one lead developer of Mint ('Clem').  This gives me concern for the future of the distro.  What happens if Clem 'moves on'?  What if he won't or can't continue to work on Mint?  What becomes of this most excellent OS?  I am not certain but in the meantime, I will continue to use Mint and recommend it to all of my clients.

Peace be with you.


[EDIT: I should point out that I have tweaked the look of Mint for my tastes.  The default look is different.  It uses different icons, window borders, color scheme, etc.  This ability to change the look is one of the things I like most about Linux.]

18 June 2008

Christ of the Celts - Book Review

Do not read this book.  It will challenge you at such a deep level that you may not even consider yourself a follower of Jesus afterward.

I just finished it and I'm speechless (but yet I am trying to speak).  This book was written by J Philip Newell, the author of Listening for the Heartbeat of God. This is a small book, less than 150 pages.  But don't let the size full you.  It is extremely powerful.  As I have said before, 'Simple is better', to quote Mr Rogers.  That is what Newell does in this book.  He doesn't waste pages or time with complicated thoughts or words.  He is clear and straightfoward.  That in itself can be unnerving, especially for me.  I like big books that I have to ponder.  Well, let me tell you, there is plenty here to ponder!  Newell, an authority of the Celtic Christian tradition, calls us back to a time when Christ was embraced through various means, namely nature.  He refers to the sacredness of creation.  All creation.

At one point, close the end of the book, he talks about how the Celtic Christians met at the great high crosses scattered throughout the Celtic region.  Instead of coming together inside a 'church', the 'church' met outside at the place where, in Celtic tradition, heaven and earth met.  It was at this point, at the high cross, that we see Christ and earth together.  And they both came from the same center, from the Divine, the Sacred, the More.  It was at these places that people felt closest to the Source of Life.  It also illustrated that it is only within community that we are truly 'saved', 'healed', 'set free'.  To use a phrase from South Africa, at the high cross there was 'Ubuntu' - the 'I am because of who we are'.  Both see that it is together that we are made whole.  We do not find healing in isolation.  We find healing in the whole, in the heart of others, in the very core of all creation.

Newell tackles many 'sacred cows' within the Christian West and I'm sure he will upset many a person.  But, for me, he speaks of such truth that we can't deny it.  Time and again he points to the truth that we are all connected.  That all of creation is connected to humanity and we to all of creation.  Over and over he points to the truth that Christ did not come to give us a foreign humanity, a foreign creation, but a true humanity, one that is birthed from a true creation.

If you are feeling a struggle deep within regarding the way Western Christianity speaks to today's world, then I highly recommend this book.  Newell challenges us to hear the voice of God in nature and each other; to see how we address and respond and react to each other and the earth.

Peace be with you.


16 June 2008

An Incredible Find

What you are looking at is my latest pipe.  This is a limited edition Peterson's Mark Twain in almost perfect condition.  Peterson made almost 3000 of these in the very early 80's and then stopped manufacturing them.  It's a replica of the original Peterson pipe Twain smoked from the late 1800's until his death in 1910.  The original can be seen in the Twain Museum in Hannibal Missouri.  I have wanted one of these pipes for years.  And today, I found one at a very, very reasonable price.

From time to time, we venture into antique stores looking for bargains.  I always look for pipes but I usually only find cheap dime store pipes.  I had always hoped that I would run across an old Peterson that no one really understood what they had.  For years I searched this way and always came up short.  But not today!  At the spur of the moment, we decided to go to an antique store a little further away than normal.  They had some wrought iron fencing my wife wanted for the garden.  While she was looking at the iron outside, my daughter and I went inside to look around.  And there, in the middle of the front case was this Peterson' Mark Twain pipe, still in its orginal box and with all of its papers.  I couldn't contain my excitement and told the lady behind the counter to put it back for me.  We looked around a bit more and added a couple more things to our purchase, including some nice fencing for the garden.  I got home and immediately started polishing the sterling silver cap of my new pipe.  It looks to have hardly been used.  No teeth marks on the bit and hardly any discoloration in the bowl or reseviour.  No tobacco smell either.  It is almost brand new!  And what a price!  I am so thrilled!  I can't wait to light it up this evening at the park listening to one of my favorite bands, Mingo Fishtrap.


EDIT: Well, the night was fantastic!  Mingo Fistrap knocked one out of the park!  Again!  And my pipe smoked very smoothly.  If you are in the mood for some good funk, R&B, Motown, Tower of Power type of groove, then I highly recommend Mingo Fishtrap.  You can purchase their music through CD Baby or iTunes.

Peace be with you.


15 June 2008

Who are we?

Who are we according to the Church, or the Bible, or tradition, or reason?  Who are we?

Some would say that we are people.  Human beings.  In the Christian tradition, most of us would probably jump to the idea that people are sinners and some are 'sinners saved by grace'.  I am starting to believe that this is only one aspect of who we have become.  But, we also become blind, deaf, enslaved, exiled, dead, etc.  All of these words describe the human condition.  Well, they describe the human condition after 'the fall'.  The problem here is at least two fold.  First, to just use one term as a catch-all for the human condition distorts our plight.  A blind person needs to be able to see, not to be freed from slavery.  Perhaps if the blind person could see she could find her own way out of the prison.  Perhaps not.  In the Western Church, we have usually stated the human condition on at least one of these words, 'sin' (some would even say 'dead').  I think this misses the point.  As I stated, the Bible uses a rich tapestry of words to describe our needs.  To reduce them to just one all encompassing term doesn't see the bigger picture and distorts the issue.

The opposite of sin, or its remedy, is forgiveness.  But that's not the remedy for exile.  The remedy for exile is return.  The remedy for deafness is hearing.  The remedy for enslavement is freedom.  The remedy for death is life.  When we pray for people who are enslaved to addiction, whether it be alcohol or pornography or whatever, we don't ask God to forgive them for their addiction.  We ask God to deliver them from bondage.  That is what they need.  We need to use the colorful palette that the Bible provides to address the hurts of people today all the while recognizing that they aren't sinners at the deepest level.

I know, that was sort of shocking.  But it's nevertheless true.  The Bible is extremely clear on this point.  All people, not just believers, but all people are made in the image of God.  Period.  We must start there.  See, most of our Western traditions don't start there.  They start in Genesis 3 where Adam and Eve are sent into exile.  But that is not the beginning of the story.  The beginning states that they (we) are made in God's image.  We never lose that.  Every person that we see is an image bearer of the Divine.  Even our enemies are made in God's image.  At their deepest core that is who they are.

Now think about this from a different angle.  If we continue to tell people, say, our children while they are growing up, that they are 'stupid' or 'worthless', what happens to them?  They start acting like and believing that they are those things.  Most of us would never dream of telling our children such things.  And yet, we tell them something diabolically worse.  We tell them that they are 'sinners in the hands of an angry God'.  We tell them, by no actions on their part, they have broken God's laws and have no good thing in them.  That they 'enemies of God', hideous, rebellious, little monsters that deserve 'hell'.  Seriously.  Some people, most people that I know, do that.  Do we see the mixed message here?

This happens to us adults, too.  How many times have we seen advertisements for products because we are not good enough?  We are constantly bombarded with ads telling us that we are worthless, ugly, inferior, ad nauseam.  And don't for one minute think that this doesn't have some impact on how we perceive ourselves.  My wife was a S.A.N.E (sexual assault nurse examiner) for a number of years.  Day after day I would listen to stories about how 'men' abused women.  After a couple of years of this I started to feel horrible.  I started to see myself as one of those 'people'.  She would try to reassure me that this wasn't the case.  'But if you keep saying "men" are such-and-such, and I'm a man...how am I supposed to separated the two?  How can you not look at me and question if I might act that way?'  It was a valid question.  What made this worse was that it was coming from my wife.  The person I love the deepest in the entire world.  If my deepest love thought men were animals then that would make a huge impact on how I started to see myself and how she would start seeing me.

We do the same thing when we see people as nothing more than 'dead' beings that have 'no good in them'.  That they are nothing more than 'enemies of God' and 'deserve' death and 'hell'.  When we believe that, we shouldn't be surprised when they act that way.  In fact, we aren't.  But that is not who we are at the deepest level of our beings.  We are bearers of the Sacred.  When people act like something they are not, we should be grieved as Jesus was when entering Jerusalem.  Our hearts should be breaking when we see people dehumanizing themselves and others.  At the deepest level of each person, at their sacred core, is the imprint of the Divine.  That is the foundation of who they are.  But they have become lost.  They are in exile.  Somewhere in them is a memory of the 'garden'.  There is an echo of a voice calling to them in the cool of the day.  There is a longing to return to the garden to the place where heaven and earth meet.  At the base level, people aren't sinners.  They are 'children of God' that have sinned, and become blind and deaf, who have become lost and enslaved.  People, at their very foundation, are 'children of God' in exile.  But the good news is that they can be forgiven.  They can be made to see and to hear.  They can be found and released from bondage.  People can return home.

So, yes.  I am questioning the doctrine of original sin.  I'm not questioning that people are sinners.  I'm questioning the view that that is who we are at our deepest level.  It's not.  People, at the very core of their being, are the image of God.
'God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.'

Peace be with you.


What are you thoughts?

02 June 2008

The Way

Several years ago, I had an epiphany (no, not the web browser). While talking with a couple of my best friends, I said, 'What if John 14.6 is referring to a journey?' And (basically) from then on, I have been seeing it that way. For those who aren't familiar with the passage, Jesus stated, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me'. The way I explained it was (roughly), 'What I'm beginning to see is that 'the way' is a 'path', 'the way' is a lifestyle, 'the way' is the way of being truly human. Now, along 'the way' we will discover some 'truth'. And as we continue on 'the way', with 'the truth', we will come into life.'

That was the basis for my understanding. I think I can simplify it more now. When Jesus said, 'I am the way', I think he was speaking about the 'way' of being 'truly human'. If we want to follow Jesus, we must follow his 'way'. What is his way? Why, read the Gospel of John and we will see that the 'way' that Jesus was referring to was the way of self-sacrificing love. A way of emptying ourselves. A way of changing our way of being human (which is mostly self-centered) into his way of being human. It is this path, this way, that leads to God.

I'm not the only one who thinks this. What follows are quotes from Marcus J. Borg from his book, The Heart of Christianity:
Indeed, this theme (of dying and rising) is the key to understanding the well-known verse in John often used as the basis of Christian exclusivism: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No once comes to the Father except through me." To set this verse in the context of John's incarnational theology: just as Jesus is the "Word made flesh," so he is "the way" made flesh, the path embodied in a life. The key question then becomes: What is "the way" that Jesus incarnates? What is "the way" that Jesus is? For John, as for the New Testament generally, "the way" embodied in Jesus is the way of death and resurrection. Dying and rising is the only way to God.

...["The way"] that John speaks of is not about believing doctrines about Jesus. Rather, "the way" is what we see incarnate in Jesus: the path of death and resurrection as the way to rebirth in God. According to John, this is the only way--and...it is "the way" spoken by all the major religions of the world. Dying and rising is the way. Thus Jesus is "the Way"--the way become flesh. Rather than being the unique revelation of a way known only in him, his life and death are the incarnation of a universal way known in all of the enduring religions.

Borg continues his discussion of 'born again' (which he sees as a metaphor for dying and rising) by stating:
This process of personal spiritual transformation--what we as Christians call being born again...is thus central to the world's religions...[The] way that Jesus incarnates is a universal way, not an exclusive way. Jesus is the embodiment, the incarnation, of the path of transformation known in the religions that have stood the test of time.

...[This] commonality is cause for celebration...Not only does it mean, to echo an exclamation in the book of Acts, the Spirit has gone out to Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, and so forth, but it also adds credibility to Christianity...[When] Jesus is seen as the incarnation of a path universally spoken about elsewhere, the path we see in him has great credibility.

I could go on but you get the idea. I have found that this understanding is more palatable for a lot of people today. I know that there will be some people who will reject this view off the cuff. Those same people might read the Bible in a literal way and reject this type of 'seeing' the Bible. However, I think one of the best statements I have heard lately is also from Borg, 'Believe whatever you want about whether the story happened this way; but now let's talk about what the story means.' If we approach the Bible from that angle, it has a depth that I have not seen in quite a long time.

I have to let you all in on a little secret...This post is in response to a conversation that I had with one of the great friends I mentioned earlier. I found it 'ironic' that we have this conversation and then, just this week, I hear from some Tibetan Monks who are traveling the US. The first night they spoke of this same thing, albeit in some different terms. But for the most part, they talked about 'dying to self' and a 'new human being'. They talked about 'the way' which seemed to me echoed what I stated above and what I told my friend. However, the one thing that seemed to be missing from the conversation with the Monks but what Borg emphasized in the book was the 'truth' that people can't do this themselves. This is where reliance on the Holy Spirit takes center stage. Perhaps the Monks recognize this and call her something else, but it is crucial to Christianity. It is the Spirit that empowers people to actually follow Jesus on 'the way'. Maybe part of God pouring out the Spirit 'on all flesh' (thus the Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, etc. that Borg commented on) is this idea of the Spirit enabling people to actually to walk in 'the way'.

What thoughts do you have about this?

Peace be with you.