Deer Jon

A week ago Friday I was under the knife for a second time, a deeper incision this go around, for a blood clot that developed near the base of my spine (which is a euphemism for “my butt”). I’m not sure whether to read this as a sign of success or just that I’ve gotten better at pain management, but I seem to be regaining function at a faster rate than last time. In fact, I was feeling so good that a careful arrangement of diet and a few modifications to the morning routine gave me the confidence to try having a little family adventure this past Saturday morning. Nicole found a historic property not too far from home that looked to provide a gentle walk, and some fun exploring for the kids, so we dressed in layers, and set out to enjoy a crisp fall morning.

I drove the family SUV, in a show of paternal competence, and we got about 15 minutes from home. Nicole had just updated the GPS with a route to our destination, and I glanced down at the map view, then back up at a shattered windshield. My first thought was that I had something in my mouth, and one of the kids must have thrown something. I picked fur out of my teeth and tried to look in the rearview mirrors — only to find them missing. “That must have been a deer” I said, as I eased the SUV over to the side of the road. “Um ya. You’re bleeding!” said Nicole. I looked down at a tiny pin prick of blood on my index finger. A quick survey found that to be the only injury to anyone inside the vehicle. Abi started, then stopped, then started crying again.

I recall a flash of brown in my peripheral vision. Nicole says she saw the deer the instant before it hit, but didn’t have enough time to shout a warning. Ben, who was in the back row, says he saw the deer somersaulting past him after the collision. The best we can figure, it was hiding in the bushes beside the road and chose a poor moment to try to leap over us. Almost the entire impact was to the windshield — a dent in the driver’s side door panel, and the missing rearview mirror, suggest that his back legs were trailing a little. The engine compartment and surrounding body panels were unaffected, save for a streak of mud. The roof has no dents, although the headliner surrounding the windshield on the interior of the vehicle was ripped back, and the attached electronics and mirror were dangling by their wiring harness. The car was drivable — save for the fact that you can’t really see where you’re going. Thankfully, the deer was a baby — not a fact that comforted the girls much, but it certainly limited the damage. The deer died instantly, as far as we can tell.

A helpful local cop arrived within about 20 minutes of calling 911, a tow truck about 20 minutes later. Our good friends John and Karen arrived in between to commiserate — and give us a ride home. Our insurance agent has been great, and approved a local shop to do the work. The vehicle’s safety equipment did its job — no air bags or collision detection were triggered, because of where it hit (although the rain sensing wipers did turn on!) but the windshield protected us. We will be out of pocket $500 for the deductible, but the rest will be completely taken care of with OEM parts by insurance. Hopefully the family wagon will be back on the road before the snow starts!

It was not the adventure we had in mind for our weekend, but we’re thanking God for His protection. It certainly could have been a lot worse. We were all a little shaken, but after regrouping at home for lunch, we salvaged the Saturday with a round of mini golf and some ice cream in the afternoon.

Church Streaming 2.0

Even though we knew it was probably going to happen, when the lock down order came in from the governor, we didn’t really get a lot of time to adjust. The kids were in school one week, and at home the next. Church was meeting in person on one Sunday, and exclusively online the next. A series of probably-Providential events had happened before this, none of which were deliberately timed by me, but all of which turned out to be helpful in getting our little country church online in time.

At the start of 2020, we didn’t even have Internet in our church building — we would upload sermon audio using a 4G hot spot. That audio was recorded on a 2008 iMac that I found on Goodwill Auctions for $140, and I had just replaced the 2006 Windows Vista eMachine that was in the pastor’s office with a 2009 iMac that I got for $80. With this “new” hardware installed, we decided it was time to petition the church leadership for a stable Internet connection. No one was opposed philosophically — they’d just never had a need before. At the February board meeting, they agreed to my proposal, and later in the month, I camped out at the church for a day and a half to wait for, then help, the Internet installer figure out how to connect our 160+ year old church building to the digital world.

The lock down order came only a couple weeks later. The Internet was unreliable, because the rural infrastructure near our location had issues, the more-than-a-decade-old iMacs were far too under-powered for their new task, and a decent webcam was suddenly very hard to find either online or in near-by brick-and-mortar stores… but in a little over a week, we managed to cobble together a streaming system, do some basic training for the pastor’s family, and hold our church’s first online service. All while hoping this would be a very temporary situation. It was not.

At some point in the summer, it became obvious that the system was too fragile for reliable live streaming, and it became more pragmatic to have a pre-recorded service in-the-bag. This created a more fault-tolerant, less stressful experience, but it didn’t change the chewing-gum-and-bailing-twine nature of the system: it all just barely worked, because none of the pieces were ever intended for the tasks that had been thrust upon them. While it became safe enough for most church members to attend an out-door service this summer, others who are at higher risk to the virus, could not attend — and with colder weather looming and no vaccine in sight, it became apparent that online church was going to be a reality for at least a little while longer. The pastor asked for some options for a more permanent system.

I priced out three bundles — good, better and best; cheap, not-as-cheap, and spendy. The elders settled on a combination of pieces that straddled the mid-range. I got to switch from trolling Goodwill, to a picking out a choice refurb from Backmarket (a great place to get used high-end hardware). The new Mac Pro is commonly called the “trash can” for its cylindrical design — Apple later admitted the look left them “designed into a corner” then basically abandoned the high end market for most of 7 years. Its from 2013, but was way over-powered for the time, and still outperforms most of the stuff you’d find at Best Buy today.

We switched from the commercial Windows software, vMix, to an open source package that runs native in macOS called OBS — a favorite of video game streamers and YouTube stars. It starts up in a fraction of the time, and handles virtually limitless inputs with ease. Switching to an HDMI camera with optical zoom, instead of the cheap USB webcam, allowed us to position the rig at the back of the sanctuary — instead of consuming the front half of the room — which made it significantly easier to connect to the sound board, and have an independent audio mix, which will improve both the in-house and online experience, once we tune it.

Ben helped me set everything up, and we even rigged up an iPad based remote control, so if needed, one person can run both the in-house video screen and the online stream.

This week, we’ll do some training on the new system, and probably work out a few kinks, then I’ll report back to the hospital for a follow-up surgery for a blood-clot related issue I’ve been dealing with all summer. Next Sunday, I hope to be worshiping from bed at home while recovering from this thing once-and-for-all!

One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear

One of the president’s more ridiculous statements in February — one that looked even stupider a few weeks later as we began locking down — has become something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. Not, of course, because we’ve beat the coronavirus, but because as a nation we decided it wasn’t a thing any more. Unable to follow the pattern of other countries that have done a good job of managing the pandemic, Americans quickly decided the bigger threat was to their individual rights, and that anyone with the education or authority (elected or otherwise) to give them guidance during a pandemic was actually the enemy.

In the battle to protect their rights, the collateral damage comes in the form of over 100,000 of their neighbors who died as a direct, or indirect, result of the dangerous spread of Covid-19. So be it, we’ve decided: I’ll do what’s right for me, that’s what being an American means!

I have a whole other draft post of some of the astoundingly ridiculous parts of being in America right now, but I’ve decided those won’t help. While the country that voted for the border wall guy is effectively locked out of visiting most other countries (including our home country that has no interest in seeing more Americans right now) life actually does go on. And the reality we’re in is one we just have to live with. The US is uninterested in participating in global efforts to manage the virus, because no one tells Americans what to do — not other Americans, and especially not the World Health Organization. And so we have to figure out how to live with this virus as a daily reality. A reality that will continue at least until we have a vaccine, but maybe longer, since we don’t trust vaccines either

Of course, opinions on the actual risk fall fairly precisely on political lines. And since its an election year, all data made available to us is filtered through one of two lenses. If you’re on the left, the pandemic must be the worst thing that ever happened because Trump’s mismanagement of it should impact his re-election chances. If you’re on the right, the pandemic has to be overblown, because if it really was a problem, obviously Trump would be doing a better job. Now, go ahead and apply this logic to everything else going on:

Masks Pose a Risk to My Health

If you’re on the left, you wear a mask while you’re alone in your car, because the virus is everywhere and we should all live in fear.
If you’re on the right, you wear a sign like this around your neck, because masks are a form of government oppression.

If you’re on the left, the peaceful protests against systemic racism only turn violent when jack-booted storm troopers appear and start shooting gentle hippies that were singing Kumbaya before they got attacked.
If you’re on the right, Antifa terrorists were burning American cities to the ground before Trump’s heroic defenders of Christian values arrived to save the day.

But what if I told you that you could be anti-racist, without looting local businesses? Or that you could support your local police department, but still want bad cops to go to jail?
What if I told you that practicing basic precautions like wearing a mask, or being thoughtful about interactions with those around you that might be more vulnerable, would allow your society to resume with a reasonable degree of normalcy?

Well, I could tell you those things… but since they don’t align with one of the two available political positions, you probably wouldn’t listen. It is an election year, after all, and any information that doesn’t affirm your worldview is irrelevant. You can hardly blame Americans — its hard to remember a time where politicians didn’t use fear of the “other” to win elections.

It turns out, in talking to individuals from both sides of the Covid debate (because somehow reality is up for debate), one thing we can all agree on is that we’re not getting good information. I’ve been tracking stats for our county, and the neighboring, more populous county, all summer. The raw data is extremely limited — and all other information comes with a political spin. The CDC has failed — not because its not a rigorous scientific organization, but because it doesn’t know how to disseminate information to the American public. Opinion wins hearts because that’s all we’re offered on the news. Most people I’ve talked to, regardless of political viewpoint, are actually hungry for good data, and willing to talk reasonably about what little we have.

I find neither the leftist fear-based view of the pandemic, nor the right’s determination to pretend it isn’t real, to be satisfying. I’d much rather take a data-driven approach to evaluating risk — for myself, my family and my neighbors. And actually, most people I talk to individually are similarly reasonable. Its just that the political discourse in this country drives groups to extremes…

Here’s what I’m fairly confident in for our family, given the data we’ve collected recently:

First, it is possible to get home to Canada. Nic and the kids spent a little under three weeks there, and although it was challenging, there isn’t an actual border wall — just an abundance of caution. Canada requires two-full weeks of complete isolation for anyone entering the country, but allows travel for essential purposes — which includes “reuniting with family”. Because they would be staying in a camper on Nic’s parent’s property, and complete isolation would be challenging, we all self-isolated at home in the States for a week prior to their trip. We then planned a route home with emergency bathroom spots identified where they wouldn’t encounter other people (trails, parks and cemeteries with lots of trees). Fortunately the stops weren’t needed. The border crossing was facilitated by an App-based form they filled out before they left home, that identified where they would be isolating, how they would get groceries, and what numbers they could be contacted at by the government to confirm their conformity to the plan. The camper was spacious and modern, and they had access to the pool and the Internet during their quarantine.
I remained in the US as the “anchor” — and because we couldn’t risk being refused re-entry to the States and losing my job. On the way back they were “reuniting” with me, and had no issues.

Thank you to Nicole’s family for providing a comfortable quarantine spot!

Second, we live in a county where the risk is low. Although compliance with the mask mandate probably hovers around 50% (we have lots of those “don’t tread on me” Americans near us), the population is not dense, and there are few large gathering areas. Since data was made available in March, only 0.7% of the county has been impacted, and less than 50 people have died with Covid. Add to that the new information we’ve just gotten about co-morbidity (and factor in common co-morbidities, like obesity) and its less than 0.05% of our population that has died from this since it arrived. I update my spreadsheet daily, and its been 15 days since I had to update the “deaths” column — I’m sad when I do have to change that value, and I pray for those families, but the data-based reality is that 46 deaths since March is not much.

From my own spreadsheet, tracking cases in our county using raw data

That said, the next county over, which includes the city of Cleveland, has very different numbers. 4% of their (much larger) population has been impacted, there are about 140 news cases a day on average, and they’ve only recently started to get that under control. What this means to me, as someone who spends a lot of time trying to interpret data in my day job, is that risk varies — and therefore, so should precautions. We will, of course, practice reasonable precaution any time we’re outside our home. But we will increase those precautions if we have to go into the city. And for every destination between picking up groceries at the corner store and going to the city, there’s an appropriate scale of precaution that should be applied.

Cleveland area cases, from raw data

Unfortunately, with a polarized, politicized view of the pandemic, there’s little room for this sort of risk-based evaluation. Either you believe you have the right to sneeze in anyone’s face that you want, or you believe that people shouldn’t leave their home. And the truly unfortunate thing is that this has begun to split the Church. God’s people, who should be united in showing mercy, practicing justice, and walking with humility — those of us who are called to love self-sacrificially — are fighting about our rights and our fears.

I am much more concerned about the ability of the church to function lovingly in the world as a beacon of hope, than I am about seeing mega-church pastors fight for their rights to put 3000 people in a room. I am much more concerned with seeing God’s people united in the Great Commission, than I am about exactly how each congregation decides to apply the Biblical mandate to gather (which should be determined based on risk factors, as outlined above.) And while I’m happy that my kids can participate in hybrid schooling and outdoor youth group right now, I recognize that just one county over, things are different — and its not a political spin that should be dictating our reaction to events in the world; it should be Christ’s love, and where available, good data.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

– Micah 6:8

To act justly means that Black lives definitely matter, but that neither violence nor Marxism will fix the problems that need to be addressed.

To love mercy means that I should wear a mask: it is an act of mercy to others who may be at risk.

And to walk humbly with my God, means that my rights aren’t important — a servant heart, and a love for God and others, should rule my life. (It also means a recognition that my political candidate/party of choice might not actually speak for God…)

The Golden Thread

Somehow the math still works. Things may be a dumpster fire here, but the economic situation is strangely detached from reality: the US dollar still has $0.34 on the Canadian equivalent, real estate in Ohio remains significantly cheaper than any Toronto-area bedroom community, and my salary is almost impossible to find on the Ontario job market — and trust me, I’ve checked!

While Covid-19 shows no signs of slowing down within US borders, and our home country shows no signs of being interested in having their unruly neighbors come over to visit, a few things have improved a little since my last post.

Patrick Corrigan, Toronto Star: Canada-US border

First of all, there are signs of cognitive activity in the President: he called masks “patriotic” and admitted the virus is getting worse. I’m not sure if this is the result of polls showing that the other bigoted old white dude is real competition for November, or if this is just how long it takes for someone like Trump to learn anything new — but we welcome this rational thinking. Hopefully the red hats will follow his lead.

Second, my employer was able to file a correction to our entry stamps. Apparently its not a cheap legal maneuver, but they undertook it on our behalf. Our entry records now show the correct expiry in 2022 — aligned with my work Visa. The correction means we can travel home if/when we need to, and not worry about getting back. The virus related travel challenges remain, but at least 50% of the problem is solved.

We’re 40 this month, and this may prove to be one of the most unusual years of our lives. The debate rages on about a return to school in the fall, and I have a persistent, although minor, medical issue, that may require a follow-up surgery. We don’t really know what the rest of the year will look like, but we’re provided for, safe and mostly healthy, so we’re grateful — despite grumbling to the contrary.

A Tale of Two Countries

I remember the day we heard that Trump had been elected. I was at a trade show with my boss, and we met up that morning in the long hallway leading to the show floor. I said to him, “What has your country done?” and he just shook his head sadly.

Most of Trump’s presidency has had minimal impact on our family. Shortly after he announced his intent to terminate NAFTA, the agreement which provided my work Visa at the time, we finally (after 7 years) won the H1B lottery. This simplified crossing the border, and granted Nicole recognized personhood for the first time in the US — her immigration status still depends on mine, but she has some legal rights now. In the end, the changes to the NAFTA agreement were minor, but we felt safer with our improved status.

So it has been that we’ve been able to ride out the Presidency of a morally repugnant, but mostly politically innocuous, Donald Trump. Since we don’t belong to any minorities, his policies haven’t impacted us significantly. And some of what our Republican-voting friends were hoping for has actually come true — the Supreme Court has tipped toward Conservative leadership (not that it has done them much good), and the economy has performed reasonably well. He’s not a likable person, and some of his fan group is pretty reprehensible, but an argument could have been made that he served his base.

That is until Covid-19 hit. Beginning with denial, following-up with attacks on his own scientific advisers and State leaders, and continuing with threats to de-fund sources of research, Trump led his country into one of the worst possible outcomes. America is exceptional only in its horrifically poor handling of the pandemic. And while other nations are in careful recovery, the US is in resurgence in many densely populated areas.

From the US Embassy in Canada website – the strength of partnership

Its no surprise then, that our home country doesn’t want us back right now. The date of re-opening for the usually friendly border has been moved back at least twice, as Canada (and other parts of the world) watch in horror while our frequently inept State and federal governments scramble to spin the irrefutable, and currently unstoppable, facts of viral transmission in line with their political positions — as if an interpretation of the Constitution will somehow change the behavior of a virus — all while many Americans are indifferent to what’s happening.

But that’s not all. Trump has also put a hold on green cards and H1B stamps through to November, claiming that it will help protect American jobs. Since most H1B Visas (which make up a tiny percentage of the US population) are issued for tech workers, the tech community responded by pointing out the obvious: skilled work forces, regardless of origin, improve American output and create American jobs. But Trump benefits from less educated voters, so he’s not listening. (Not listening is apparently his default state.)

Can I nominate one of these dumb chickens to be the next President?

We are still lucky, though. Ohio’s Republican government has performed well during this pandemic, our mostly conservative community has generally behaved thoughtfully, and our county is fairly safe. I don’t always agree with the political signs I see on people’s lawns, but I haven’t observed any ignorance or hate — “love your neighbor” (or at least “live and let live”) seems to win around here most of the time. Plus, I have a job that allows me to work from home, and the kids have enough space to enjoy the warm weather — we even got chickens for them to raise this summer. So while we’re grateful, the one-two punch of Trump’s leadership in 2020 has a big impact on us…

Nicole and Eli’s Visa stamps expire in September. Normally this isn’t a big deal — when this happens, we take a trip home to Canada, show our work authorization paperwork on the way back to the States, and get a new stamp. But stamps aren’t being issued until at least November (who knows what happens if Trump gets re-elected), and non-essential travel is restricted until July 21. If the border re-opens as planned, that gives us a window of one month to visit home, of which we’ll likely spend two weeks under a mandatory isolation order. If they delay the re-opening by another month (which is likely), that gives us a window of 10 days to visit home, of which 14 will likely be under an isolation order. That’s negative 4 days to visit family and friends…

Biden has said he would lift the Visa holds if he’s elected in November. If that was the only reason to root for his election, I’d feel selfish. But there’s basically unlimited reasons to hope we never have to see Trump in the Oval Office again. He’s turned this great country that we love into an international embarrassment, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can only hope that our American friends have had enough of this strange timeline, and will vote for the other bigoted old white dude

Why you shouldn’t buy a Mac in 2020…or maybe ever again.

Sad Mac iconThis week Apple surprised no one by announcing they were beginning their transition to “Apple silicon” in their Mac computer line-up. If you don’t know what that means, its sufficient to understand that they are moving from Intel-based computers, to a processor and related architecture of “their own” design.

I put quotes around “their own” because, despite their announcement, everyone knows that “Apple silicon” is derived from the ARM processor — a family of chips most often used in phones and other mobile devices. ARM has been around a long time, and Apple invested in the company back during the Newton era. Intel has obviously been around even longer, but Apple’s use of Intel chips is the stuff of relatively recent history.

This marks the 4th processor migration for Apple, from the Motorola 6502-based Apple I and Apple II computers, to the Motorola 68000 family in the early Macintosh line-up, to the Motorola (and IBM) PowerPC of 1990s processor-war infamy. With each generation, Apple struggled to position themselves against the WinTel (Windows + Intel) hegemony. It wasn’t until 2006, when they transitioned to Intel, that Apple finally found their footing.

Since Steve Jobs’ hostile take-over of the Macintosh project in the early 80s, Apple’s philosophy on computing has been fairly “closed.” Jobs envisioned the computer as an appliance for average people, not a tinker toy for nerds. In the original Mac, this meant unusual screws and an absence of hardware expansion slots. On the iPhone, it meant a “walled garden” where only Apple-approved apps on the Apple-hosted App Store could be installed (unless you were willing to do some serious hacking.)

It took a long time to prove this philosophy out — it was almost a full generation before non-nerds were doing most of the computer shopping. But in many ways it paid off. Macs have a reputation of being stable, reliable machines, and iPhones are the mobile device most people want to own. iOS really represents the logical outcome of Apple’s trend toward locking things down: its an operating system that users aren’t supposed to know anything about, on hardware that customers aren’t supposed to be able to open.

On the Mac, though, there’s always been another layer: under the simple, friendly veneer of the user interface is a powerful Unix shell. And under the sleek case is fairly standard, commodity hardware. The implications of this for the Mac is that despite Apple’s attempts to end their life prematurely, people with a little know-how can keep their Macs running for years. Unlike phones, where people feel compelled (either by fashion trends, or security concerns) to buy a new one every couple of years (don’t do it!), an Intel Mac can last a decade or more as a useful, performant machine. Obviously this is a problem for a company that primarily sells hardware…

Case in point: this is being written on a 12 year old Mac that Apple tried to stop updating in 2016.

Apple zealots will tell you that the move to ARM will let Apple build smaller, faster machines with better battery life. They’re not wrong — ARM rocks for mobility. What they won’t admit is that the move away from commodity hardware will let Apple control the lifecycle of these new computers the same way they intentionally keep the lifecycle of their phones shorter than necessary:

  • With an Intel-based hardware platform, upgrades made for Windows PCs mostly “just work” in a Mac
  • With an Intel-based hardware platform, many parts can be sourced from other manufacturers to provide for repairs that Apple will no longer supply
  • With an Intel-based hardware platform, users can boot Windows (or Linux) to run software that isn’t compatible with “older” Macs
  • With an Intel-based hardware platform, the developer community can create patches to circumvent artificial end-of-life moves from Apple designed to keep you from upgrading to the newest MacOS

It remains to be seen whether the heroic hackers of the world will be able to bring these benefits to new ARM-based Macs, but if Apple’s plan is to make Macs more like iPhones (which it evidently is), you can bet they won’t help us.

The move from PowerPC to Intel was a painful one for the Mac community. Software we owned stopped working, or had to be run through short-lived and poorly performing compatibility tools. Then there was the swallowing of our pride as we collectively had to admit that Intel really did outperform the G4s and G5s we were so proud of. But ultimately, the benefits for consumers outweighed the costs: it was the right move. Arguably, the move to ARM is significantly less urgent — granted, Intel’s track record over the past few years hasn’t been great, but they’re still putting out decent performance at a reasonable price point. Besides, the average Mac user doesn’t care what kind of silicon they’re running on — and they shouldn’t need to. But they should care if a company is deliberately steering them toward a platform of aggressive planned obsolescence and a treadmill of re-buying things they don’t really need.

I’ve put more than two dozen used Intel iMacs and MacBooks back into service for churches, students, teachers and missionaries — all well past the date Apple would like them to be running, and all stable, reliable and with half of them running Windows 10 at least part of the time. They’re really great machines, and I mourn the end of this era. Maybe Apple’s new products will be better than I think; I’m sure they’ll be sexy pieces of hardware. I just hope they don’t become sexy pieces of garbage in a couple years…

Ignorance with Piety

I’ve written a few flaming posts lately — I’ll admit, there’s a level of emotion in my blog that I haven’t mustered in awhile. Unusual circumstances and all. I’ll admit too, its nice to see some engagement and responses to those posts. Of course, such engagement will come with differing opinions, but my post on conspiracy theories seemed to have provoked a significant reaction — and one I’d like to partially address. I won’t post the reply in its entirety, because I know the person, and I’m embarrassed for them (you can read their full thoughts in the comments, if you’d like). But I will engage, in part, to clarify and continue the admonition:

Last month I read a piece that someone had written and people had shared. After I read it, Holy Spirit said to me, “Well, that was the most anti-Christ thing I’VE ever read.”

…I wanted to share this with you because I never saw the anti-Christ agenda so clear before. It really is just anti Christ (opposite of Christ). I used to think that the spirit of the anti-Christ meant that someone would come in shouting, “Down with Jesus!” But, God has shown me that it is a lot more subtle than that. We need to be on the look out for what is exactly opposite of Jesus. We need to be on guard against the devil’s schemes.

My first rebuttal then, is a very important clarification: I am not anti Christ, or a part of the anti-Christ agenda. For absolute clarity, I am a Christian, a believer in Jesus, the Son of God, who died and rose again in propitiation for my sins. His Word, the Bible, and His guidance of the early church that sometimes took the form of signs and miracles, provide Holy instruction for life. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Aside from 10 years of education in a Christian school, and 2 years of my childhood on the missions field, I also have a Certificate of Theological Studies from a conservative Christian seminary. All that said, more often than I would like to admit, I find myself ashamed of those who claim a similar background.

Then, God showed me about this need to believe in science. He said, “So, people are going to put their faith in science, the same science that tried to tell the children about darwinism in schools? That is anti Christ.”

There’s few things that make me doubt a message is from the Holy Spirit more than the person claiming God spoke it to them directly. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but I am saying its rare. God doesn’t really need to breathe blog comments into the average person — He breathed His Word, and He guides through the Holy Spirit, but WordPress isn’t usually where He physically interacts with His people.

In fact, maybe the only thing that makes me more wary about a message that claims to be from God is if the content of that message is opposed to the laws of nature He established. And here again, I’ll grant you our imperfect understanding of how He works, but Biblically, suspension of His ordered universe is a relatively rare occurrence. I certainly am not a proponent of Darwinism (but I’ll do the man the respect of capitalizing his name), although I understand the human need to make sense of what appears to have been a miraculous creation event, but I do expect that in most cases, science is a use of our Imago Dei to learn about, and exert dominion over, that creation. We first practiced the God-given gift of science when we gave names to the animals. (Shortly afterward we were compelled to develop the study of crop science!)

When a repeatably observable behavior in the physical universe is established, then behavior outside that documentable “law” is reserved for the Creator and Orderer of that universe. If the behavior of radio waves transmitted from a radio tower is known, then a dramatic and heretofore impossible change in that behavior, such that it can suddenly cause or activate a virus, is either a) the assumption of a lunatic or b) the miraculous intervention of the Creator of that behavior. Unless God is miraculously causing 5G cell phone towers to give people a virus, then it is not happening. And unless you can show me how a secret change to the behavior of radio waves is a part of His Gospel of reconciliation and salvation, then you are sowing fear.

Second, it was suggested that a person needed to have 3-5 years of schooling in order to have a valid opinion on something. God said, mirror that to the theology that is given. This writer would then believe that no one can tell another person about the Good News of Jesus until they have 3-5 years of schooling. Then, Holy Spirit said to me, “Is that how Jesus got the Good News out? Did He only use learned people? “No,” I said, “He used fishermen, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc

Herein you might be more correct than you think: the best historical estimates are that Jesus spent 3 to 3.5 years with His lay-person disciples, walking with them in earthly ministry. During that time He instructed them, corrected them, and even rebuked them. He educated them until they were ready to lead the church without His physical presence. James, most probably the brother of Jesus, specifically wrote: Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly – James 3:1.

Nonetheless, none of that was my premise. My premise was that people on Facebook who have zero knowledge on the science of viral transmission or radio signal capabilities are irresponsible if they share misinformation on those topics as if it were fact.

First, Jesus never called the common, every day people names. He called names to the Elites of his time, the Pharisees (Matt 12:34), but he never called the common people names.

You’re right, my post was a little harsh. But I wrote it in response to a former church leader with no education on the topics I mentioned, using his leadership position to sow discontent with the government on Facebook. I did not say that Christians shouldn’t share the Good News unless they have three years of education — but since you brought it up, a minimum of three years does seem like a reasonable defense against bad theology.

Then, this morning God asked me to ask you, “What side are you going to be on?”

Skipping over the fact that God probably didn’t ask you to ask me that, I am on the side of reasoned faith. I am on the side of a Creator of the universe who loved us enough that He didn’t thrust us into a random, frighteningly unpredictable world so that we could live in fear of things we don’t understand. He placed us lovingly in an ordered world, instructed us to care for it and then, when we made a mess with our sin, He sent his Son to provide a way for things to be good again. He then called us to share His message of hope with those who need Him (Matt 28:19) — and He specifically told us not to sow fear (1 Tim 1:7, 1 John 4:18, Romans 8:15) or rebellion (John 19:11).

I’ll close this one with another admonition from Scripture:
When I am with people whose faith is weak, I live as they do to win them. I do everything I can to win everyone I possibly can – 1 Corinthians 9:22

I’ll start with myself: I get that I could be more gentle. Many are genuinely afraid right now — and for good reason. A lot is happening in the world, and most of it can be hard to understand. Aside from just dealing with a virus, people have lost jobs, security, and access to loved ones. Events have triggered the exploration of deep sin within our systems. It sucks, and it leaves us all feeling uncertain. I’m probably not winning anyone to my view of the world by yelling at them.

But fellow Christians, as gently as I know how, I have to tell you: you are no friend of the Gospel if you espouse dangerous, hateful, or fringe viewpoints on public forums. When you are unreasonable and uninformed on topics like vaccinations or viruses or the experiences of minorities, it is too easy for the unchurched to extrapolate that you are also unreasonable and uninformed on other topics — like Jesus. Exegeted logically, the Bible, the ministry of Jesus, and His gospel are compelling (or condemning) to anyone who would approach them earnestly. But when you mix your faith in with your fears, and your superstitions in with your beliefs, or your religion with a political party, you present to the world an unattractive, and unjustifiable testimony, and you will win no one. You are not pointing to a loving Father whose hand of providence is active through this tough time; you are not becoming weak for the sake of winning others… you are showing your faith to be too weak to be any good.

Second System Syndrome

In software development, there’s a common error that occurs as a system evolves. The first version is lean and focused on a small initial set of capabilities. Lessons are learned during development, features are added, and bugs are found. At some point, the development team begins to feel that their first version contained too many compromises, and that it would be better just to start over from scratch with new ideas. Competent at managing the existing system, but forgetting some of the challenges of its implementation, the team determines that they’re equipped to start again — armed with the lessons of the past and newer technology and skills.

Invariably, this second system proves way more difficult than the first. While its true that the first system had some real issues, its users are unable to sacrifice features they use at the alter of a clean slate. The relatively short history of software is full of the fall-out: The new version is less capable, users complain. The new version has new and different bugs to work around, customers get frustrated. “The new versions sucks — why couldn’t you just improve the old one?!”

I first learned of the “de-fund the police” movement in a Facebook discussion a couple days before it started trending — and I was alarmed. In the wake of almost continuous police brutality hitting the news, I understand the reflex, but the position that police departments should go away seemed extreme to me. Upon probing the post, I found there’s a little more nuance to the position. Depending on who you’re talking to, “de-fund” might mean “reduce funding” or “fund alternate community supports.” But it might also mean “get rid of all police.”

I have just two thoughts in response:

When bad people make it into the police force, we should have mechanisms to deal with them — but we shouldn’t be surprised: the human race is made up entirely of broken people who will be involved in any system we build! Humanism’s only hope is that we can muster enough good behavior from the human condition to out-weight our flawed natures.

Of course, I don’t believe that humanism is the answer. I believe that part of the situation we’re in is that truth has become relative. We tolerate an extreme right and an extreme left because we’ve all agreed that people can have their “own” truth. We reject absolute truth, but acquiesce to extreme relative truths. There is an Absolute Truth that is not subject to the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights, or to your opinion, or to mine. And without that Absolute, any human system will fail.

I despair though, that the Christian Church — the hands and feet of Jesus who are supposed to be carrying that Truth — has become so focused on advocating a political viewpoint, or an immoral President, or some imagined prophecy, that no one is really interested in what we have to say any more. Others are doing a better job of being salt and light, and we are not hearing the pain that our systems are causing.

I saw a viewpoint on Twitter the other day that makes some sense to me. It suggested that as Christians, who should be in a posture of humbly listening right now, maybe we need a different set of leaders. Maybe those who have been last among us for so long should be first for awhile, so we can hear of Jesus work through the cross that they have been carrying. Let’s not throw out the systems we built. Let us with humility, and repentance for where we have failed to excise the sin in our camp, ask the people who are most impacted by the problems to lead us in fixing them.

Update: obviously my viewpoint on this amounts to an opinion. I don’t have first-hand experience with either policing, or being a victim of white-on-black racism. This article, from someone with both experiences, is well worth reading.

Air Hockey Scoreboard Project

Last year, our church got a donation of an air hockey table, for use by the youth group. It was in nice shape, save for the electronic scoreboard, which wouldn’t keep score. It would light up and make sound when powered, but the score was stuck at “88” to “88.” We resolved to see if we could fix it.

The electronics were wrapped in a plastic banner that crossed the middle of the table, and had only a few wires running to it — one from a puck “catcher” on each side of the table, with a simple switch that was pressed when the puck was present, and one modified ethernet cable running to a small control panel that let you start a timer, or reset the game. Our initial hope was that it would just be a wiring problem, that Ben and I could fix together. It turned out to be much more complicated.

All the wiring was fine, and via various traces, ended up connected to a small logic board — this turned out to be the cause of the problem: it was dead. The board had a part number, but no amount of Internet searching could find a source for a replacement part. We theorized that the actual logic being performed was fairly simplistic, and that we might be able to replicate it with a Raspberry Pi Zero — roughly the same size, and equipped with sufficient GPIO pins to map to the existing wiring. Connecting the puck catchers was easy, and with a little Python code, we could count score and show it on a connected SSH Terminal. The control panel was a little more difficult, but we managed to find a solution for some of its basic functions. The remaining problem was the seven-segment LEDs that actually show the score.

For those we called in some help from an engineering student we know, and managed to come up with the logic to light the LEDs by reverse engineering an array of bit values that could be toggled via the Pi’s GPIO. In theory it was going to be possible to restore displays, and 90% of the functionality of the system. In practice, it didn’t work out that way.

The seven-segment LEDs work in pairs-of-pairs: two LEDs for each player, and double that to mirror the value on the other side of the board. 4 LEDs, with 8 wires each makes for 32 tiny wires that needed to be run. Only half that needed to go the GPIO, since the other half were just mirrored values, but that’s still a lot of wiring — turns out there’s a reason most electronics use a printed circuit board. I briefly entertained designing such a board, and paying to have it printed, but we were still going to run into voltage problems. Once the LEDs were running, very little voltage remained in the little Pi for the blinking lights and buzzers that make the experience fun.

After literally months of soldering, brainstorming, and frequently ignoring the now very-messy project out of frustration, we decided to abandon the banner, and go all in on a Raspberry Pi 3B+ with an add-on display. The logic still worked fine for score-keeping, although I had to come up with a new routine for displaying the score in ASCII characters that filled the screen. The girls each composed a little ditty that gets bleated out by the buzzer when someone wins the game, and Ben designed a mounting shim and 3D printed it. We removed one of the two support poles for the scoreboard, and mounted the Pi to the other — neatly running the wires up the pole. I used plastic cement to attach a reset button and the buzzer to the side of the Pi’s case, providing the key features of the original control panel.

After a successful beta test, we refined the design and improved the crude graphics a little, then installed our new system in the Air Hockey table using most of the original wiring. Its not perfect, but its quite elegant — and I was pleased by how much we all learned putting it together.

Finding Hope in a Long Dark Night

Last night the Whitehouse turned off its lights for the first time in history. The president hid in his bunker while the country he promised to “Make Great Again” burned. There’s no explanation but cowardice, and no voice has emerged to fill the leadership gap. America desperately needs hope, but is left with only anger — two sides with no recourse but to point and shout at the other.

Police form a line on H Street as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, Sunday, May 31, 2020, near the White House in Washington. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Part of me wants to attend a protest, and add my voice to those calling for justice. Part of me is saddened by the anger and violence that often results. (We settled for donating to a bail fund.) But the narrative we’re getting from the news is flawed. Not all protests have led to violence, and not all violence has started with protestors. This is a nation that is in tears — and sometimes tantrums — but there is no question that what’s going on is the result of deep pain.

We’re all a little on edge, after months of being locked down by a virus we don’t really understand. But the reality is, the effects have been disproportionately distributed among parts of the American population, creating fuel for a fire that only needed a spark to ignite it.

When you add to that a string of crimes that are blatantly racially motivated, you’ve provided the ignition — and no one should be surprised that this blew up in our face. Those reacting with self-righteous indignation about property damage are ignorantly denying years of systematic injustice. Individual Americans may largely be innocent of intentional racism, but we’re all participants in a system-wide failure to ensure every human being gets the same fair shake. If you live in our neighborhood and don’t believe me, come with me to East Cleveland and see first-hand results.

Between the pandemic, and the social injustice it has highlighted, America is facing a reckoning. We haven’t done all we could — and I’m a part of it. We haven’t loved our neighbor, we haven’t cared for the “least of these”, we haven’t lived up to the ideals this nation was created with. Instead, we’ve withdrawn from our position of global leadership, and turned inward to fight about our right to go shopping and get haircuts — while ignoring our neighbor’s right to a fair trial.

All is not lost, though. This is still a great country — despite its flaws. And there’s no better illustration than this weekend’s space launch. More than just a technical triumph, and more than just a multi-culture, multi-discipline team working together to reach a challenging goal: this weekend’s events are the result of a bi-partisan, cross-administration effort. The end of the shuttle program was a sad day in America, but the Obama administration’s move to allow commercial investment in the next generation of technology created new hope. That hope might have died without the Trump administration’s decision to double-down, and invest in it. Granted, “Space Force” sounded a little funny (and made for an entertaining new Netflix show), but Trump did good here — and that should be called out too.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken lifts off during NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., May 30, 2020. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

For me, and many others, space represents a reaching out. In the same way we are like little children, crying in pain or screaming in petulance from this playpen called Earth, we are also learning to pull ourselves up, to stand on wobbly feet and understand that we are not the center of the universe: we’re just a tiny part. For those who believe in God — or at least something greater than ourselves — its hard to look out into the void of space and believe that our current condition is all there is. It puts our childish problems into context, and provides hope that we can do better as we grow up.

Part of growing up is learning to work together. We have real problems right now… We have a virus with no cure. We have a latent racism that has not truly been healed. We have a wealth gap that is un-crossable by too many people. But if bi-partisan government and private industry can work together to get a couple dudes into space in less than 9 years, maybe we can solve some of these other problems together too…

I believe that part of the solution is a recognition that we are fundamentally broken at a level we cannot fix on our own. Humans are not naturally good — tough situations make that painfully obvious. Our natural tendencies aren’t toward making things better; we really have to work at that. And like children, we need a loving parent to help us figure it out. True hope is found beyond the human condition. And a loving Father waits with open arms to pick us up, and show us what He intended life to look like.