Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lost in Oz

As I mentioned before, my employer is requiring everyone to read the management book, The Oz Principle. So I have periodically been out on the internets and checking it out. Curiously I can find hardly any negative reviews! I found a couple of 1- and 2-star reviews on Amazon but otherwise, nada. Just to show what kind of guy I am, this makes me very skeptical of the enlightenment value of this tome. Oh, sure, it could be that it is such a superior read that no one would ever have a bad word to say about it. That could happen. Except that I read the first chapter and it blamed the collapse of Enron on a lack of accountability! All that fraud must have been simply a symptom of their failure to live Above the Line® !

First of all, how can I take seriously someone who registers "Above the Line"?

More to the point, this buzz and lack of critical response indicates that this is probably all hype and management fad. I'll read the stupid book and go to the Zigglaresque training session and then get on with my job. However, I will never be able to escape the nagging knowledge that the men and women running this company think that this codswallop is a great idea...

Update: Changed Trademark to Registered

Thursday, December 23, 2010

You Know You're Old When ...

... you pull a muscle in your back trying to pour coffee!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Case Against Q

I just finished reading Mark Goodacre's The Case Against Q.

What strikes me first is this: Given that two examples of writing share substantial features of wording and order, the prima facie conclusion is that the author of one work knew the other. Any other supposition is multiplying entities and must bear a high burden of proof and the wrath of William of Ockham. Does Q pass the test?

The funny thing about Q research is how much of it resolves to - "well, I wouldn't have written it like that so how could Luke?" After indulging in a review of Greek verb forms, invariably a scholar will claim that Luke would have to have been a "crank" or "unstable" to have redacted Matthew in such a way. Is this really all it comes down to? I have yet to read a comment questioning Q's motivation or mental stability and yet Luke is second guessed continually.

In his book, Goodacre describes how the Q-ists will divide the double and triple tradition material into "Q", "Mark-Q Overlap" and the "Minor Agreements" and then declare that you are not allowed to analyze the material as a whole. Aside from enjoying the spectacle of an epicycle introduced to address each new difficulty, I was reminded of the trends I see in my own line of work.

In the software industry, someone is always writing a book which claims that their "new" way of doing things will eliminate all the nasty and unpopular parts of our jobs. Unfortunately, when you look more closely they have not eliminated anything, merely re-categorized the same - essentially unavoidable - tasks. Software engineers are supposedly trained in information theory which demands that a critical eye be kept on the overall information content of a system. Sadly, like a fundamentalist kicking the tires on a used car, developers all too easily compartmentalize the principles of actual programming and that of managing the project.

In much the same way, by dividing the Luke-Matthew material in to discrete piles, it seems that biblical scholars can indulge in word counting and the minutia of Greek grammar while mistaking their man-made framework for reality itself.

Early on in The Case Against Q, Goodacre describes how the reputation of Q skeptic Michael Goulder has suffered because of his tangential claim that the author of Matthew's gospel probably created much of his unique material himself. On reading this, my little heart went pitapat! This is an idea I have been struggling with for some time. How exactly do we know that the Evangelists were not making up stories/sayings/parables to suit their aims? They certainly felt free to rearrange and modify the material in their sources as they saw fit. What kept them from stepping over the line and creating pericopae from whole cloth? I realize that individual elements can be attested through other sources suggesting that they come from a shared pool of material, written or oral, but are there general guidelines for discriminating between sourced material and pure creativity? Is the appeal to Oral Tradition a pitfall that prevents us from seeing the true nature of the work?

All in all, Mark Goodacre's work has further convinced me that Q as a theory has become brittle in the last 150 years and is subject to challenge from Farrer's theory or perhaps an insight we haven't even heard yet. Not that my opinion really matters... :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Exploring Our Matrix: Polyglot Meme

EPolyglot Meme

Polyglot Meme

Jim McGrath has launched the Polyglot Meme so here are the languages I have made some attempt - be it ever so abortive - to learn.

Special thanks to Jim and Dr Platypus for allowing me to crib their notes:

English (a work in progress)
French
Spanish
Russian
German
Latin
Gaelic
Swedish
Finnish
Ukrainian
Klingon
Quenya
Esperanto
American Sign Language

I had no idea I was such a geek (well, maybe I had a clue)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Slightly Softer Wimper

As a follow up to my missive on Agile Failure in my organization, I must point out that a recent planning session with another team led to some useful activity in rating the stories in the team backlog. That said, the previous avatar of the Scrum Master was in the form of a PMI certified project manager from a Waterfall shop. Those skills were very much in evidence during the meeting. It seems more and more clear that the training, experience and quality of the team members deteremine the outcome of a project far more that 5x7 cards, stand up meetings or manifestos.

Sign of the Times

An actual section at the book store:

"New Teen Paranormal Romance"

Monday, November 22, 2010

Flaubert on Parenting: 2010

I also can't help but wonder if all of the effort poured into creating the perfect child, like the haute bourgeois attention to stylish food, is a way of deflecting and rechannelling adult disappointment. Are these parents, so virtuously exhausted, so child-drained at the end of one of these busy days, compensating for something they have given up? Something missing in their marriage? Some romantic disappointment? Some compromise of career or adventure? One can't help but wonder, in other words, what Tolstoy or Flaubert would make of our current parenting style.

"Modern Parenting: If we try to engineer perfect children, will they grow up to be unbearable?"
Katie Roiphe, Slate/Financial Times

With a Wimper

The other day I ate lunch with a colleague. She argued that training the entire company on The Oz Principle and having each employee participate in eight two hour evaluations each quarter was worth the expense and bother even if only she and I were inspired to demonstrate responsibility-taking behavior before our co-workers. My position was that not a single management fad I have ever witnessed emerging from the executive suite had had any impact on corporate culture or effectiveness. The Oz Principle walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and, more to the point, smells like a duck. The most disappointing part is that seasoned businessmen and women actually buy these books.

I have made no secret of my doubts about Agile Development. To be sure, my company showed all the signs of an Agile Failure environment - top heavy decision making, Agile by mandate, lack of top-level buy-in, a culture of just-get-by. You can't just flip a switch and change the corporate culture. Now, after only a few months, the course of events is unfolding exactly as I anticipated based on my two decades experience at various companies.

First, at the sprint planning session, the so-called User Stories are written based on the steps required to complete some system design that each developer holds in his or her head. Instead of "As a call center rep, I want ..." every card begins, "As a developer I need to ...". Since our product owner comes out of IT instead of the user organization (she says she KNOWS what they need) no one blinks. When I brought this up, I was told that according to some Agile books, this is allowed. I shut up after that. Next each user story is assigned a complexity based on an unstructured discussion in which the senior members of the team dominate - no input from the underlings. Finally, the programming manager, who is on the team, provides the task estimates and then assigns each task to a developer before the first sprint has even started!

Here's what has happened: the manager nixes any self-organization and the focus remains on IT delivering the functionality that they believe the user needs. To top it off, the higher-ups are demanding hard deadlines and treating every problem as a fire, yanking team members around like manic chess pieces. This process reflects the exact sequence of events that went into planning a project before we went all Agile. As I expected, the members of IT have found a way to do exactly what they were doing before but pay lip service to being Agile. It was that way at the phone company and it's that way now.

The challenge to management is to cancel their Management Book of the Month subscription, do some real research in organizational behavior, look hard at the culture they have to deal with and find creative, insightful ways to move the company out of the 1980's. Good luck.
Hate is the crucible of our values.

But for the Grace of God

I am listening to Sidney Poitier's book, The Measure of a Man. In the mod-50's, after making No Way Out, Cry Beloved Country and Blackboard Jungle, his only source of steady income to support his family was a failing rib restaurant. It finally got to the point where he asked his father-in-law to teach him how to lay bricks.

A man whom we would consider a quintescential success struggled to feed his family in the midst of that supposed success. Ain't hind-sight grand?

P.S.: He failed at bricklaying

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Solid Ground?

Two seismologists, Meredith Nettles and Göran Ekström of Columbia University, discovered a few years ago that unusual earthquakes were emanating from the Greenland glaciers as they dumped the extra ice into the sea. “It’s remarkable that an iceberg can do this, but when that loss of ice occurs, it does generate a signal that sets up a vibration that you can record all across the globe,” Dr. Nettles said in an interview in Greenland.

Analyzing past records, they discovered that these quakes had increased severalfold from the level of the early 1990s, a sign of how fast the ice is changing.

As Glaciers Melt, Science Seeks Data on Rising Seas, NY Times, Nov 13

We like to think we are standing on solid ground. The glacial pace of plate tectonics (pun intended!) makes it a bit too remote to affect our daily experience. On the other hand, when I reflect on forebulging, the lifting up of the earth's crust around continental icesheets of the ice age caused by the weight of the icesheet pushing down on the crust under it. It is like sitting on a couch and noting the "ripple" of cushion around your rear end.

Now I read here that losing just a bit of ice from a glacier is enough to trigger a shifting in the earth's surface, heard via seismograph. It kinda makes me feel humble in the face of forces and movements far beyond my ken.

QOD - Situational Piety

"On land I worship Christ, but at sea I worship Thor."
Helgi the Lean, early Icelandic settler

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Obamacare Rules! (?)

A CNN exit poll on Tuesday asked the following question:

What Should Congress Do With New Health Care Law?

Results:

31% Expand It
16% Leave It As Is
48% Repeal It

Yeah, Americans hate Obamacare so much that as many people LIKE the healthcare bill as those oppose it and a third want more of it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

COBOL Rules!

Having taken a position with a firm that recently launched an Agile Development initiative, I have been giving a lot of thought to how software is developed.

First off, I will say that I don't hold out much hope for Agile. Every company has its own work culture which is entrenched and not easily shifted. Some may be ripe for accepting an approach like Agile Development but most are not. If Agile is launched an AVP with a memo and training program, just sit through the seminar and wait. It will go away just like Who Moved My Cheese.

More generally, I think we spend much too much time and effort in agonizing over organization and methods instead of producing quality programs. I don't mean we need test-driven development or a million test cases in the QA group. I mean that little attention is paid to the actual code that is produced. Is it efficient? Is it secure? Is it robust? Is it easy to understand and modify? I believe W Edward Deming said that the problem with management is that it reads too many management books and not enough statistics. Same with programmers. My last organization did a Lunch-and-Learn series on best practices in coding specific situations. It was nice. Most of what I see, though, is google-the-problem/copy-a-sample-from-a-blog/compile-the-result. And that is when they aren't trying to stay on the bleeding edge.

I have rediscovered an admiration for COBOL programmers. I have to assume that the senseless dash toward "progress" seen in Java programming circles is less an issue in COBOL, which is considered a dying computer language. These guys and gals receive a request or specification and then code a solution. End of story. No need to impress anyone with the latest framework, there.

I read a comment thread recently which mentioned the "80% of anything is crap" rule with regard to programmers. Why don't we attack this statistic by attempting to make that crap a little less aromatic? What we need is a movement to improve the quality of programming by teaching theory and best practices. We all know that well written code is less prone to errors. But do we pay any attention to coding? No! We spend most of our time talking about patterns and pair-programming. Perhaps with enough theory and programming philosophy, developers might recognize that moving something from the Java source file to an XML file does not reduce the code, it merely translates it into XML. Or that using JUnit increases your code-base because your test modules are programs too that may need to be tested themselves.

I have been a programmer my entire working life but I trained as an engineer. I often wonder when will the time come when software "engineering" lives up to its name and drops the hacker culture and becomes a true discipline.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Code Smell

Can I count any Java class with the string "Util" in its name as smelly code? Helper classes, utility classes, they all scream. "I am Not Writing Object Oriented Code!"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Speaking of Protocol Droids ...

In my previous post, I might have inferred that protocol droids are annoying. If that is the case, then: Good. That is what I meant .

In reflecting on this further I remembered a train of thought shared back in the misty past of this blog: is it possible to create artificial intelligence without designing in some level of artificial neurosis.
I realize that C3PO's function in Star Wars is as comic relief. His quirky personality might be further justified by the fact that he is indeed a homemade droid built by Anakin Skywalker (in the heretical Episode 2 - or was it Episode 1 - who cares!) . I choose to think that C3PO's sometimes role go between for machines and people has required that he be designed to understand the weird thought processes of the human side of this transaction.

To be sure, C1PO was quite conversant in the binary language of moisture evaporators. Yet his designers (C# programmers no doubt) foolishly assumed that human communication could be achieved following the same simplistic assumptions required to understanding the ramblings of Obi Wan's toaster.

C2PO proved completely inadequate to deal with even the sarcastic utterances of an R2 unit. Only when the development team (having ditched Agile Droid Development in favor of actual forethought) watched the home movies of Anakin hiding his Halloween candy from Leia did they fully appreciate the possibilities of cyber-paranoia.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Need a Protocol Droid

"What I really need is a droid who understands the binary language of moisture evaporators." - Uncle Owen (Star Wars - The Real Movie)

Working in software development, I am continually inflicted with the latest open source scheme to transform the way we program computers. Someone in the organization decides that WidgetScam 2.1 will make waterfall, procedural, proprietary coding a thing of the past.

First off, there is some resume padding going on - software architects recommend to management the latest thing so that they can put it on their resume inspite of the fact that it will make the comopany no more productive or profitable. Relatedly, I believe that there is an ego factor whereby individual programmers need to feel like they are on the cutting edge. Me, I am old fashioned. I take pride in being a pretty good debugger and in being able to produce decent code that solves the needs of the customer (remember them?)

One amusing thing about this technological arms race is that we install all the new jars and dlls on our laptops and then keep programming the way we always have. Don't get me wong. I like programming in Java. It has some nice properties but Object Oriented Programming was sold as a complete paradigm shift in IT. Have you looked at any Java code recently? Most of it is dressed up C. Most programmers are writing procedural code in .java files. Of course, it works. It does what the specs require (most of the time) but there is no way that the advertised benefits of OO are going to realized.

So where are we now. I spend my days trying to install (and re-install, and re-re-install) software development tools on my cutting edge laptop all the while trying to balance my 64-bit vs 32-bit apps, the programs that require Java 1.5 vs those on 1.6 and the three different document repositories our company is using (Wiki vs network drive vs Alfresco). My industry is approaching the point where two systems will not be able to share information without an intervening layer that is more expensive, cumbersome and annoying than a protocol droid. Sometimes I wish we all just had R2 units. They aren't real shiny but they seem to get the job done.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

And You Thought Math was Hard

I think it is high time that youth pastors and others who are spiritual mentors to teens begin showing students the full range of complexity in Scripture. Help them engage with that. Don’t tell them the Bible is simple and if they just read for five minutes a day their lives will get better. That’s a lie. Tell them the Bible is hard. It’s difficult to understand if you don’t study it. It is confounding sometimes. But it’s also worth reading because it’s the story of God and humans and how we interact and clash with God and each other.

[...] Wrestling with the Bible in all its authentic glory is difficult for us just like it’s difficult for students. We want to be able to give them a neat package of faith that they can put under their bed and live with. It’s not only what we want, it’s what their parents want and it’s what our pastors want.
Calvin at The Floppy Hat

Edit: Added the second part of the quote - the best part!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Just as I Suspected

Turns out that objects separated by a few centimeters in elevation experience time dilation, just as Einstein predicted. What this means of course, is that we taller people think faster than those who are height, and apparently intellectually, challenged. If it is any consolation to the rest of you, being closer to the ground means you'll live longer.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Iluvator Shrugged?

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.
John Rogers - Kung Fu Monkey

ht:Paul Krugman

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Quantum of Moolah

[...] when you hear about quantum mechanics and consciousness, you should assume the author is a crackpot unless proven otherwise. Moreover, assume that they want your money. ...
Lawrence Krauss, interview with

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reasons to Believe

Up until this point I have found that precious few of reasons people seem to have for believing in God have attracted my respect: (1) a personal, internal experience and (2) the apparent design of the universe. It is easy to see the former as pretty persuasive to the experiencer and yet it is nearly powerless in convincing others. I have some sympathy for those who see a creative hand in the workings of the universe but science offers an answer to almost every question that God supposedly answers about what we see. He is all but reduced to hiding in the gap before the Big Bang.

Now, I have developed a sympathy for another impulse that leads many to Faith: alienation. If you do not feel like the world you are forced to move through is not your real home, you are fortunate. If you did not feel this way as a teenager, you were on some heavy meds! We all feel this way to some degree at some time. How simple to conclude that our feelings are actually instincts pointing to the unseen truth, that there is another place, another person whose discovery will complete us and stop these feelings forever. Heck, Disney made this movie at least half a dozen times: Sword in the Stone, Little Mermaid, Hercules, Aladdin, ... Expose this temptation to religious indoctrination and proselytizing and that one true home becomes a heavenly one, that missing father becomes the father of all creation.

I would rank this particular faith-producing influence on the same level as the creationist impulse - compelling in the absence of a critical or skeptical outlook and yet not so difficult to root out as John Wesley's "heart strangely warmed."

I imagine that as I get older, mellower and (hopefully) wiser I will add to this list, acknowlege and accept the range of experiences that lead people to do the (sometimes squirrelly) things that they do. And, yes, the current post was triggered by my own experience of alienation although in this case at odds with the church (don't get me started on "Purity" lock-ins). I can only hope that I will not be so close-minded that only my own discomfort can ever lead me to accept the validity of the experiences of others. [Can we count that as an atheist prayer? ;)]

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Maybe you have to be British

I just finished Remains of the Day and frankly, I don't get it. This thing won the Booker prize? This is one of the "Books you can't live without"? I'll admit that it was clever and the author very skillfully plotted the story so that the protagonist became aware of his own past only gradually. That said, I never identified with the main character. By the time the lights go on I don;t have enough investment in Stevens to weather the ending. So the whole thing just went kind of "plop" for me.

Not impressed

I think I am the only one in the country who did not like Toy Story 3. To me the whole plot was a remake of the second one - Woody is separated, a Buzz Lightyear acts like he doesn't know any of the Gang and the villain is a toy who is convinced that children only destroy toys. None of the personal struggle or growth that we got from the first two movies is seen. Instead we get Mission Impossible.

Now, the end was quite remarkable but unfortunately it came as a jar after the previous 90 odd minutes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Caves of Nerds

Paul Krugman's synopsis on Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel:
it’s obviously a parable about nerdy Jewish kids from Brooklyn and their feelings of inferiority in the face of blond, athletic, but slightly stupid upper-class WASPs.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Guns and Tea

Given all the "Second Amendment remedy" rhetoric coming out of the tea party and its allies, I thought it might be a good time to discover the intent behind that most contentious of rights . Off to Wikipedia!

So the meaning and role of the terms "well regulated militia" and "keep and bear arms" are not as straight forward as some would have it but the surprising (and distressing) thing to me was that the original purpose of the amendment actually was to repel invaders, suppress insurrection and resist tyranny. The tea partiers were right. Who knew.

Before we all fish out the cups and saucers, there is more to this story. Along with the desire to resist the feds with our muskets and flintlocks was an adamant demand that the federal government not have a standing army. So, we have a little problem. No one in the tea party is demanding that we dissolve the 1st Division. In fact, these folks are as pro-military as you are likely to find. My first question is this: if the founding fathers' concept of no standing army has been cast aside, why do some insist that we hew to the original intent of the language that officially made it into the Bill of Rights?

Now that we have that wee inconsistency out of the way, I have issue with the amendment itself. Measures that made sense to a bunch of men who had just come through a successful revolution are not necessarily wisdom for us today. Calling up the National Guard in times of a crisis is a practical component to national defense. But let's consider the other two legs underpinning the Second Amendment tripod: insurrection and tyranny. The conundrum they present are two sides of the same coin. Would the Tea Party be the insurrection or would they be resisting tyranny? Who is the insurgent? Who is the tyrant? Every rebel claims God for his side. The farmers in the Whiskey Rebellion thought their cause was just and yet President Washington was ready to use troops to enforce the excise tax. Was he a tyrant? Are taxes a source of tyranny when each person has a voice in forming the government that levies the tax?

It was all very well for James Madison to claim the high ground after the fact but if the good people of the Tea Party actually took up arms against the foreigner usurper in the White House what would be the result? The Civil War? The Little Rock Crisis? The Watts Riot? What do Second Amendment remedies actually look like once the rhetoric is put aside. "Collatoral damage" (dead people) in Denver. Patriots dying for the glorious cause in Wichita. Death. Blood. Innocent lives. It is not a movie or video game. This why a believe that the Second Amendment has no place in a modern nation. We are not living on Daniel Boone's frontier. We have a national army and a well-established tradition of non-violent checks and balances. Glorification of the Second Amendment suggests a country in which every aggrieved party takes up arms and chaos rules. Baghdad? Kandahar? These are places where political conflict is reserved by force.

Monday, June 28, 2010

As Goes the Fourth Estate

Anyone who doubts the wisdom of the founding fathers in treating of the news media as a Fourth Estate, should read this report and despair.
The opening line:
Ninety percent of physicians surveyed said doctors overtest and overtreat to protect themselves from malpractice lawsuits.
Notice what it DOESN'T say: that 90% of doctors actually overtest for fear of lawsuits. This is the same kind of survey that discovered that the majority of people believe American schools are failing but a majority believed that their schools were fine. Its all those other doctors doing too many tests. Someone actually thought that it would contribute to our health-care policy debate to do this survey. To report this survey as a major headline on MSNBC. This is crap! This why our democracy is moribund. Can you imagine how many people will walk away from this headline with the "fact" that 90% of doctor really overtreat for fear of malpractice. The article waits until THE VERY LAST PARAGRAPH to point out that this survey does not say that! Couldn't that have appeared at the top where context would have been useful?

It gets better... the co-author of the survey report "noted that defensive medicine is estimated to cost the U.S. health care system billions of dollars each year" but not before relaying that she tends to order more tests, "particularly if it's a high-risk patient." Well, no shit! Of course you are more careful with high-risk patients. They are high-risk. You know, more likely to benefit from extra tests.

So this the kind of non-information that America is being subjected to as we navigate our way through rocky times. I suppose the media is now in the storytelling business. The news must fit the established narrative or the "audience" will be lost. Then again, I was never a fan of LOST.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Blue Parakeet: Chap 8

All right, I goofed. Chapter 7 is not the so-called Boring Chapter. That would be chapter 8 which is a little boring. I am not at all certain this material deserved a whole chapter. It basically re-iterates that the words in the Bible are meaningless unless lived. Got it!

One thing chapter 8 does do is introduce another McKnightian tortured metaphor. This one pictures the Gospel as a water slide with one wall being the Bible, another wall being Tradition (trusted mentors?) and the water being... wait for it... the Holy Spirit. If you knock down one of those walls you fall off the water slide! Now, first off, a water slide doesn't really have "walls". It is typically molded as an open pipe. Next, the only experience most of has with people falling off water slides is reading about tragic accidents in the newspaper. This aspect distracted me from what I assume is McKnight's point: keeping a balance of forces in following the Gospel NOT bringing up images of bloody teenagers being loaded into ambulances. I guess the water/Holy Spirit carries you forward in this analogy. What happens if you pee in the pool at the bottom? :0

Two more observations: 1) Scot McKnight is a Paul guy, not a Jesus guy. I am leery of Paul guys. 2) McKnight seems to accept the tradition authorship of every book in the Bible. Paul wrote Colossians and 1 Timothy. Jesus' brother wrote James. Moses wrote Leviticus. Never so much as an "alleged to have written" or "traditionally attributed to." I treat people like this as having completely shut down there critical faculties until shown otherwise (I'm not a complete curmudgeon - yet)

The next chapter starts to examine in detail how we pick and choose which parts of the Bible we are going to obey. This bit was the reason I picked the book up in the first place. Upward and onward!

The Blue Parakeet: Chap 6->Chap 7

Part of the problem between Scot McKnight and me is that he is a gung-ho Christian and I am, shall we say, not. So when I hear the reflections of a man thousands of years old in the struggles of Job, Dr MvKnight hears God. When I hear Paul in of 1 Corinthians furiously trying to work out how early Christians should live, McKnight hears God.

Chapter six of The Blue Parakeet examines the difference between the Bible and God. This is a welcome message that most Christians need to hear. God is revealed through the Bible but the words on the page are not objects of worship. This is good ol' Bibliolatry. Now, if God is so beyond human kenning, can we learn anything of any value from the shadow of himself that He has left between the lines? But that is a discussion for another day.

Chapter seven is getting to the meat of the topic: why do people claim to believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God and yet do not do what it says to do? McKnight makes a useful distinction - one that is starting to come forward in public debate - that having the right believes about God is not the same thing as following Jesus, doing God's work, loving God's commandments. The author's wife called this chapter the "Boring Chapter." I would say that it is the pivotal chapter and I am glad he put it in.

There is a chapter coming up called something like "Living Jesus-ly" that I am curious to read. Perhaps next time.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Blue Parakeet: Chap 3->Chap 5

In Chapter 3 of The Blue Parakeet , Scot McKnight lists out different ways that people read the Bible and, guess what? His way is the best! :) I suppose his slices are as good as anyone's. I liked his take on the distortion of a Daily Blessings Calendar and musings on a proposed "Wrath of God Calendar of Warnings".

Things pick up steam in Chapter 4. Here McKnight starts digging holes. First off I have to say that his concept of "wiki-story" seems really awkward to me. The Wikipedia to which he compares the books of the Bible is a collaboration of authors creating a unity. McKnight's wiki-stories are re-tellings of the same story (if I understand him). It would as if each Wikipedia contributor wrote a whole new article each time. Wiki authors may tussle over a subject but ultimately must collaborate. Wiki-story authors can ignore each other, take potshots or compete. The analogy doesn't bring anything to his point.

Chapter 5 attempts to map out the single story of the entire collection of books that make up the Christian Bible. Earlier in The Blue Parakeet, I appreciated the author's admonition that we must read each book as its own story. Unfortunately, the way we must read each story is circumscribed by a framework that is imposed from outside. When McKnight trumpeted reading the Bible along with Tradition, I got suspicious. My suspicions were justified. It just so happens the meaning of the Bible is... conservative evangelical theology! Surprised? We learn in this chapter (pg 77) that Jesus died to pay for our sins. I was hoping for insight and I got Substitutionary Atonement. What's more, McKnight informs us that the arch of the Bible is all about Oneness. We are treated to lines like this:
After splitting Adam into Ish [man] and Ishah [woman], God brings them back together in "One Flesh." [pg 70]
I suppose all the polygamy in the Old Testament is just a great big mistake that will be rectified in time for Mark 10:2 Oneness is slathered so thickly on the Bible that one wants to go read it cover-to-cover just to reassure oneself that the real Bible is still under there. I just feel that there is so much going on in each book of the Bible, so much behind each verse that boiling it down to such a pithy theme does violence to the many human lives presenting themselves to us across the millennia. I learned the word "noumena" from Carl Sagan, the deep wonder at a thing that is transcendant from everyday life. When I read Paul's letters or the Book of Job, I sense the gulf of time and share a oneness with those authors. When Scot McKnight wraps a thousand pages up with a nice, evangelical bow, I feel a loss.

I imagine Dr McKnight would say that he feels a sense of wonder when he reads each of his wiki-stories. Perhaps he even gets some of the flavor of wonder that I do. I fear, however, that his tether to Tradition keeps him close enough to Jesus that he is unable to explore the deeper shadows hinted at in each writing, the shadows where one encounters human nature unvarnished by theme or theology. Pity, really.

My overall take thus far would be:
  • If we read the Bible along with Tradition and all we get out is a traditional view of the Bible, why am I reading this book instead of attended the Episcopal Church?
  • If we are supposed to apply "that was then and this is now" liberally in order to justify ignoring the commandments that no longer fit our way of life, how are we better off than the people who get there Bible verses from calendars? Those who actually read I Kings end up in the same place.
My Sunday School class was reading 1 Corinthians' verses on divorce and marriage. We really struggled with how to deal with these and similar teachings and I hoped that this book would help put things in perspective. It doesn't sem to be moving in that direction. Let's see if it can redeem itself...

The Blue Parakeet: - Chap 2

In chapter two, McKnight lays out two ways of reading the Bible in a historical context, retrieving-it-all and retrieving-the-essence, with a pretty blatant disapproval of both. Then, on page 32 of my copy, he starts to let on that he is about to propose a middle way. He has set us up for a false-compromise where his solution will seem more appealing along side his (strawman?) extremes. My alarm bells are not yet ringing but they ARE humming a bit...

The Blue Parakeet: Chap 1

I'm not the kind to blog a book one chapter at a time. I'm more the type to drop sarcastic comments along the way... We'll just have to wait and see how this comes out. :)

I enjoyed the first chapter of The Blue Parakeet. I think Scot McKnight has setup his treatise nicely by taking on some low hanging fruit - Sabbath keeping, tithing, foot washing - with the promise of meatier discussions to come. In sharing his progression through his questions as a young man, the author displays a good deal of good humor and humility. Let's hope that it sticks!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Michael Spencer, 1956-2010

Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk has left us and will be missed. Rest in peace.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

So Much More Tragic

"Many were at a loss for words over the discovery of a body believed to be that of 17-year-old Chelsea King, five days after the popular, straight-A student from San Diego County disappeared and two days after a registered sex offender was booked on suspicion of rape and murder."

Is her death more tragic because she was popular and a straight-A student?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Question of the Day

What if everything we think we know about psychology turns out only to apply to undergraduate students?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Return of Dred Scott

Premise 1: Persons can own corporations

Premise 2: Corporations are persons

Conclusion: Corporations can own persons

Mission Accomplished!

I love Christian Book Stores

First let me say that the Family Christian Book Store is lame-o-city! It's almost as if the aisles are extra wide because there are too many books that they are afraid to stock. Now, admittedly, I was there looking for Jim McGrath's The Burial of Jesus. One look told me that I was not going to find it. But I thought I would poke around anyway.

There, right next to the study guides, was the Apologetics section. They are still peddling Josh McDowell, he he. But The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict could not distract from the glory that is One Minute Answers to Skeptics ...

What do they do with the 58 seconds after muttering, "Is, too!"