A Dovetailed Life

The things that interest us weave us together to create who we are.

Category: Technology

Contemporary Worship Music: Unintentional Ecumenism

ec·u·men·i·cal

adjective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just some random thoughts.

-B

A Struggling Quest for Identity #GC2012

I thought about writing my reflections on the General Conference of the United Methodist Church 2012 here. I actually did write my reflections on it, for a class. Below are not those reflections. I figured that anyone reading this likely read my tweets and Facebook status updates throughout the conference’s ongoings and is also likely unwilling to listen to me rant about something that to them seems trivial. So, instead, I thought I’d present what I see to be an overarching problem with the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Church, as it stands today, has one large problem: it doesn’t know who it is.

The UMC (then the many forms of the methodist movement and the Methodist church) was both fortunate and unfortunate to have grown up around the birth of America. This means that values based on personal rights and liberties were, from the beginning of American Methodism, engrained into who the church was. To this day, this influence can be seen. The UMC still practices ways of democracy. The UMC constantly bickers about fairness and control of leading ecclesial (church) authorities. Let’s face it: the UMC is a post-Enlightenment church heavily influenced by both the good and bad of American Christendom. It is not the Catholic or Anglican church and, to a very certain extent, is very proud of this reality.

The Methodist church in America has been through trial after tribulation after trial after crisis. Methodism in America has dealt with slavery. It has dealt with civil rights. It has dealt with feminism. It has dealt, and is dealing, with homosexuality. In fact with the exception of homosexuality, the UMC has been a leading charge in America, seeking to bring personal liberties and rights to all. It’s as if ‘all means all’ has been written into a little bit of Methodism throughout America’s narrative.

But, recently, Methodism has lost its cultural footing. As a church that once pressed the westward American movement, it struggles now to gain or maintain a foothold in what it used to have significant influence on: culture.

Simply put, the United Methodist Church is not culturally relevant anymore. It’s not even, as a whole, socially relevant anymore. My diagnosis, again: it doesn’t know who it is.

We’ve seen this before. After Steve Jobs left Apple (mid 1980’s), the company began a downward spiral. It produced tons of products. It ventured into commercial areas it had never been. It tried new things without worrying about quality. It forgot the mission the Steves had set out for it since the beginning: make good products. Jobs used to tell this story about when he got back to Apple (late 1990’s) where he asked the employees that had stayed why they had done so. Their response? “I bleed in six colors.” (A harkening to the old Apple logo) They, evidently in the minority, could still sort of remember who Apple was.

Jobs used to tell this story alongside one about how he preached the future of Apple to his employees once he returned. He said that it became clear that if it was a zero-sum game and for Apple to win, Microsoft had to lose, it was clear that Apple was going to lose. “Apple didn’t have to win!” Steve preached. “Apple had to remember who Apple was!” Jobs always said that the only thing Apple focused on was “making great products.” That’s it. If Apple was under Jobs’ leadership, they would be about making great products and little else. Their identity was found inside of making great products. That’s who Apple was.

To say that the UMC is not in the same place would be an effort to evade the truth. Little is wrong with the Wesleyan theological heritage of the UMC. Little is wrong with the connectional heritage of the UMC.

What’s wrong with the UMC? It doesn’t remember who it used to be. It has, because of its love for tradition and unwillingness to move and groove, forgotten that it used to write the American narrative before other groups. It has forgotten that it used to write the culture instead of the culture writing it. It has forgotten that it used to be full of innovation. It has forgotten that it used to be evangelical. It has forgotten that it used to be vital.

The UMC struggled at General Conference over the last two weeks to make any progress toward the future. It chose (because of a host of reasons) to maintain a structural format based off coroporate models that are now half a century old. It chose, in large part, to ignore the essential part of its future: young clergy. With the strange exception of ‘guaranteed appointments’ for elders, the UMC made very little progress in reshaping who it is and, because of this, must suffer the consequences over the next four years until issues can be brought forth once again.

News flash: four years is too long in today’s world. Change was needed and it was needed fast. And it failed, motion after motion, amendment after amendment.

The UMC used to find its identity in strong Wesleyan theology that pushed the culture and innovated before it could. It was able to articulate new, sometimes controversial, ideas better so that the culture understood them in light of Christ rather than in pure Enlightened thought. Somehow, as a church, we have managed to live more into the Americanized version of who we are rather than the Christian version.

The church has simply forgotten who she is.

I fear it will get worse, too, as we become a more global church. As our surrounding culture begins to deal with what it means to have a global economy, it is faced with ways to run the economy. It chooses the easiest, cheapest route almost every time. What a time for the church to lead the way! Perhaps then we wouldn’t struggle with the ethical violations! But, the church, forgetting that it used to shape the way, does not. And instead of the world realizing who the world is, the world simply thinks its way is normative. How sad a day.

I feared that change would not come at General Conference 2012. I feared the the church would be stuck in a rut because of its inability to remember who it is. I had little idea however about how bad it would actually be.

‘Where’s God in this?’ you might ask. God’s here. Have no fear. The Spirit is moving somewhere. But I don’t believe United Methodism to be any sort of sacred thing. It can die. The Gospel will continue on. The Spirit will continue to carry it. The travesty is that the UMC actually has some interesting things to say about the Gospel.

If only it could remember how to say them.

-B

 

AT&Terrible

It was September 11, 2009.

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

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

My one selectable option: “Force Quit Application: ‘Phone'”

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

Right…

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

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

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

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

Until recently.

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

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

The New Policy:

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

It seems fair, doesn’t it?

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

Except for one thing – customer loyalty.

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

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

I know what you’re thinking…that’s fair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

-B

 

My iPad 3 Event Predictions

Last night sucked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you get one of these iPads?

 

-B

 

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

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

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

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

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

Until this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B

Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates

This was shown to me by a ‘friend’:

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

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

 
 
That is all.  
-B

The Death of the UMC #explo2011

I’ve had over 63 pages of writing due in the last two weeks.  It’s funny that we often describe Divinity School as “Hell on Earth.”  Currently, I’m tired of writing my theology paper.  Thus, I am taking a break to do this.

I attended Exploration 2011 this weekend in St. Louis.  Exploration is a conference for about 600 young, college-aged, United Methodist adults who are exploring (hence the title) a call into some sort of ministry.  It serves several purposes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-B

Mind Controlled Siri

If this is legit, it’s very cool.

-B

But The iPad Is Just A Toy!

When people say that, laugh in their face.

Consider that an order.

-B

AutoTuned Siri

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

Funny work. Catchy progression.

-B

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