Mor Beal

from the Irish for “big mouth”

What Do We Really Need?

As a part of going through Financial Peace University first as participants and then leading a class, my wife and I have been doing a much closer examination of our finances and questioning our spending. This stemmed in part from when she quit her job in order to take on a start-up ministry leading the coalition of city churches in a focused ministry, and our income dropped by 40-ish percent. This wasn’t the first time—back in the mid-2000s she quit an incredibly well-paying job in the newspaper business to pursue her calling to help inner city communities grow and thrive.

This time the spending cuts hewed closer to the bone. Where could we reduce? What we realized was we were spending a lot of money on non-essentials that we classified as utilities: cable tee-vee and cell phones and landline phone.

I read the Lifehacker website, where they wrote more than a few posts on “how to cut the cable”. We realized we could save ourselves $20 a month by cutting TV and streaming our entertainment from Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu and the like. It’s not like we had a huge cable package—no premium channels, no sports channels, just the Basic-Plus package. And we didn’t even watch those channels that much! We kept the broadcast channels simply because the difference between keeping them and getting the Internet discount and cutting TV entirely and paying more for Internet was $7/month. But when the cable company upped our TV rate by $10, we said goodbye to TV entirely.

Between cell phones and home phone we’d been spending well over $100/month…for what? We barely used the landline, making all our long-distance calls on our cell phones where we didn’t have to pay long-distance charges, and usually making those calls after 7PM or on weekends when we had unlimited calling. But since it’s nice to have one phone where people can reach either of us, we kept the landline but reduced it to measured service—10¢ per outgoing call, free incoming—and trimmed $15 a month there.

We’ve resisted getting smartphones for this same reason. Do we really need to spend $100-150 a month to be able to surf the Intartubes or send and receive emails or chat via iMessage or Skype on a small screen? Why? We spend most of our time at our offices, which have WiFi, and home, which has WiFi, so we both have iPod Touches, which are essentially iPhones without the cellular bits…or, to put it another way (and I love this term), the iPod Touch is pretty much an iPad Micro. So I can send and receive quick work or personal emails, make Facetime or Skype calls, sync my calendar and contacts seamlessly, almost all that an iPhone can do, and I don’t have to pay $100/month. In fact, last year I was at the Big Box Hardware store and needed to call my wife about the project I was working on but forgot my cell phone. As it turns out, I had Magic Jack for iOS installed on my iPod, and using the store’s free WiFi for customers, called her and got the answer I needed.

Our next step was to reduce the cell phone even more by switching to a company called Ting. We get the same service we now have with the Big Cell Company for about half of what we were paying.

But do we really need cell phones or high-speed Internet or cable tee-vee at all? What is it to really need? And what do we have in our lives that we think I haven’t an answer yet, but when I do I will share it with you. For now, I offer you the same challenge I have put before myself: what can you get rid of in your life that would simplify it and probably make you happier in the process?

Like A Boss!

I don’t like to brag, but…no, wait. I do like to brag. Why else would I have created a ‘blog? Anyway, I did something last night that was the 21st century version of rebuilding the engine on your ’66 Mustang, and I want to share. I’m doing this in part to brag, yeah, and in part hopefully someone Google searching for what I did will come across this and maybe find it helpful or an encouragement.

the broken iPod screen

Backstory: last month I shattered the lower half of the screen on my iPad Micro, er, iPod Touch. (I used to explain to people an iPod Touch is like the iPhone but you can’t make calls—but, actually, you can make calls using Magic Jack or Skype and WiFi, so that’s not entirely accurate—but everyone knows the iPad and iPad Mini so I’ve taken to calling my device an iPad Micro.) As it turns out, Apple doesn’t even repair people’s broken iPod Touches but simply replaces them. Mine is out-of-warranty and replacing it is too expensive, and besides I’m holding out that sometime in the next year we’ll switch our cell provider from Sprint to Ting and then we can afford a data plan and I can get an iPhone and stop carrying a cell phone and separate iOS device. But I digress.

Turns out, the screen is replaceable, but still pricey to have done. Oh, hey, they sell the screen assembly units on-line for as little as $30, as long as you’re willing to do some detail work! I asked my brother-in-law, the Master Po to my Grasshopper, if he would consider tackling such a project and he said “no way.” Maybe I’m stupidly dangerous, or maybe I trust a great deal in my mad-skills as an assembler and inspector of Mil-spec multi-layer circuit boards 27 years ago, but I decided to give it a shot.

First, there are a boatload of assemblies out there you can buy, from $20-80. Some come with tools, some don’t; some come with only the glass digitizer and not the LCD (bad idea, since on later iPods the two are fused together in one piece); some come in colors other than black or white; most of the black or white ones do not come with a replacement Home button, assuming you’ll just use yours. More on that later.

I decided to change the color on mine to be able to easily differentiate between my iPod and my wife’s, and disliking the color options (they’re fine if you’re a teenager, but a 49 year-old guy should not have a device in that shade of green or purple) I decided on the Apple white, and made sure the unit came with a replacement Home button. Sure glad I did, and not just for having the button match the face!

If you ever decide to attempt something like this, you abso-fracking-lutely must follow the video instructions from iCracked.com. Printed instructions are OK, but they guys from iCracked blew me away with the detailed instructions with comments, suggestions, cautions and such at each step of the way.

screen removed, mid-plate ready to be removed (note row of tiny, tiny screws at left)

Still, disassembly to the point where I could remove the old screen took nearly 90 minutes, but that perhaps was because I was being excruciatingly exacting in using a magnifier to ensure I got all the bits of glass and adhesive debris removed from the bezel and chassis…OK, and my eyes aren’t the best and my bifocal glasses only helped so much.

This is delicate and dicey work at every step of the way. Unless you have a complete set of geek microtools, you are going to want to take extra care in removing the old screen, cleaning the bezel and mid-body plate, removing the plate, loosening the logic board, disconnecting the old screen, connecting the new screen, and reassembling and gluing everything back together. That’s right: glue. The screen assembly of iOS devices is not physically held in place by the bezel, but by adhesive that bonds the digitizer layer to the bezel and mid-plate. If that doesn’t make you a little paranoid about the screen of your iPhone or iPad falling out on you, I don’t know what will.

I wished at least a dozen times I had a free-standing magnifier with a light. If you don’t have one, find someone to borrow one from, rent one, something. Believe me, it is miserable trying to work on very small components that need two hands when one of those hands is holding a magnifier. And make sure you have loads of good lighting, and it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra light like a headlamp. I had to work nearly blind in a very confined space under the logic board—maybe 3/8″ (8mm?)—which I had pulled up on one side and flexed and in danger of cracking or snapping, in order to connect the digitizer, all the while worrying I might bend one of the connector pins and render the entire device useless. Thank God the connection apparently is holding, and thanks to my wife and her small hands and good eyes for making it work.

Attaching the new screen took less than half the time it did to remove the broken screen. The only difficulty other than the one I just mentioned was installing the new Home button. The old one was unusable no matter what, thanks to all the shattered glass that surrounded it and its rubber adhesive gasket. (You can see the Home button and glass remnants, top right, in the photo above.) Now, I have some pretty mean Google-fu when it comes to constructing Boolean statements for getting a pretty specific search, and I came up with not a single website or page that describes how the Home button should be assembled. If you stumbled across this ‘blog looking for the how, I’ve put it in a separate (non-public) post.

the new screen, with the old debris

Though it wasn’t difficult, it was still careful, meticulous work. There are few things that felt like that moment when I turned the iPod on to test the screen before reassembling and sealing and found it worked just as I’d hoped. If it hadn’t been midnight, I might have grunted. The adhesive application, the dabbing of some glass superglue, the careful alignment of screen to bezel, the squeezing, the clamping all took five minutes.

Was it easy? No way. Would I do it again? Maybe, but only for myself; I wouldn’t offer to do this for a friend’s unit because (1) I don’t give a warranty and (2) they can’t afford me. It would be cheaper to send it to a place like iCracked or Mission:Repair in Kansas, who offers a replacement-for-life plan which is handy if you have a habit of breaking the screen.

But I had to do this if for no other reason than to say I did. When my dad was in his 20s guys tore down and rebuilt cars, or restored classic cars. Some even still did it when I was in my 20s but by then cars were coming with more and more electronics so that eventually you needed a degree in electrical engineering to replace the alternator. Today’s manly thing to do is in the geek domain—we’ve gone from being gear-heads to chip-heads, and I’m proud to say I’m a chip-head. It’s nice to know I still have some skills that I learned a quarter century ago. It’s nice to know that, despite being an easily distracted puppy dog, I can focus and take my time doing meticulous work and find that it actually calms me.

It feels good to take on a challenge, rise to the occasion, and, oh yeah, impress my wife!

They see me rollin', they be beggin' me to fix their electronics!

Damn, it feels good to be a geekster…

Mind. Blown.

My church has been one of a few dozen participating in Micah’s Backpack in our county, in part because my amazing wife is on the steering team as a result of her work with the coalition of city churches. So I was privy to some mind-blowing information from the past school year.

If you don’t know about Micah’s Backpack, it’s a faith-based program that provides a backpack of food to a student for them to be able to eat over the weekend. It doesn’t feed the entire family, just that one child. In our county, 50% of students in the public school system qualify for FARM (Free And Reduced Meals)…that’s more than 11,000 students who receive a free meal at school because their families struggle with food scarcity. More than 11,000 students who may go hungry over a weekend when there’s no school lunch.

When the new superintendent of the school system came on-board in Fall of 2012 and heard that some churches were doing Micah’s Backpacks at a few elementary schools, he was so impressed by the program that he asked the churches if they would set a goal of being in every elementary school in two years’ time, with the goal of eventually being in every middle school and high school as well.

Churches responded; oh my, they responded. By the beginning of 2013 Micah’s Backpack was serving nearly 600 children in all 26 elementary schools in the county. While that’s only a little over 5% of the kids who may go hungry on any given weekend, it’s still impressive.

But here’s what’s even more impressive, and just blew my mind: in the end-of-year survey the program did, parents and teachers reported roughly 3/4th of those students showed a marked improvement—better grades, more attentive, fewer in-class disturbances, fewer days out sick…

Imagine the impact of this long-term: fewer kids dropping out of school before graduation, more kids getting a better education, more kids able to go on to college or a vocation, more kids getting better jobs and thereby being able to break the cycles of poverty and hunger and underachievement. We’ve been searching for a single solution to our education ills—here it is. No fancy curriculum or program, no giving every student an iPad, no building new elaborate school facilities. None of that matters if kids are hungry. What it takes to give a kid a chance at a better life, what it takes to improve our society…is a backpack.

Remembering (After) THAT Day

On this 12th anniversary of a day of shock and horror, many people have expressed their sense of the day by sharing where they were when they heard the news, or watching the events unfold in front of the TV. While the details of that day—on the phone for a couple hours with my best friend from seminary because she was worried about her husband, father, brother, and brother-in-law who all worked on Wall Street and whose offices were in proximity to the Towers—are indelibly burned into my memory, I find myself reflecting on something else.

First, consider that 9/11 was shocking in its scope and audacity, but three times more children under the age of five around the world died that day due to hunger than were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Food, pardon the expression, for thought.

Today I remember something else: what followed. How the world rallied around us—tens of thousands in China bringing flowers and candles to the US Embassy, the French newspaper Le Monde declaring “We Are All Americans”, and Iranians at a soccer match in Tehran observing a minute of silence.

What happened closer to home is what moves me even here a dozen years later. New Yorkers disproved every stereotype ever made about them as they rallied like only New Yorkers can. Steve Buscemi, who has never been full of himself, went to the old fire company in Manhattan he had worked at as a young man and worked side-by-side with other fire fighters in the recovery efforts at what came to be called Ground Zero.

I was scheduled to preach at a church on the 23rd, so on the day after the attacks I was driving across Baltimore to a meeting at the church. At every traffic light as I pulled up next to a car or they pulled up next to me we would look at each other and nod and a look would pass between us. What kind of car we drove, what color our skin was, what political party we might belong to, none of that mattered. In those days after 9/11/2001 we were united—the wealthy man and the poor single mother, the conservative and the liberal, those who are White or African-American or Asian or Native American or Latino. We were kin, we were one.

If only we could be that way again.

Where Are We Going, and Why Are We In a Handbasket?

Since my wife and I gave up cable tee-vee (story for another post), we’ve been getting our entertainment by watching TV shows on Netflix’s streaming service. One show we added to our queue is the well-written and well-acted How I Met Your Mother.

It can be quite a funny show at moments. Don’t believe me? If you’re a married couple check out the season 1 episode where Marshall and Lily trap themselves in the bathroom for the sake of Ted’s Big Night with his girlfriend Victoria. Which brings me to the part of this show that, when you stop and think about it, should creep you out as much as it does me.

The premise of the show is the Ted of 2030 is telling his son and daughter the story of how he came to meet their mother, not just the first meeting but everything that made him the man worthy of their mom. Sounds good, right? Until you watch the show and realize it should be called How I Had Sex With a Lot of Women Before I Met Your Mother. In the season one episode “Game Night”, older Ted actually confesses to his kids he’s told them a lot of inappropriate stories. I’m not going to get into the whole “is this or is this not abusive to the kids” question. The question I want to ask is…

Why do we as a society seem to think that the premise of this show is anything other than wildly inappropriate, twisted, and wrong?

No one responsible for this show—not the producers, the showrunners, the writers, the actors, the executives as CBS—has said, “You know, I think it’s a little sick that Dad is actually telling stories to his kids about having sex with their ‘Aunt Robin’.” Are we as a society that jaded, that uncaring, that not only did it not occur to us to be bothered by this but we actually derive some joy from the whole thing?

Am I making something out of nothing, or is this one of those times when I have to make the tough choice of ethics and integrity?

Something Better

Well, as of yesterday I am no longer a Democrat. Nor a Republican. Nor a Libertarian, or Green Party, or any party affiliation. I am now officially “Non-Affiliated”. It’s a lot better than it sounds.

I need to share why I did this at this time. In part, I’m hopeful this will shield me from political robo-calls, at least at the primary level. Dealing with them at the general election level is just hopeless. But more importantly, I cannot in good conscience give my hand, affiliate myself, with either of the two major parties in this country because I find them shameful and embarrassing. I dislike what the Republican Party has come to stand for, and I mourn for the Democratic Party that seems to stand for nothing. The Libertarians believe in the inherent goodness of people, that, left to their own devices, people and the human system will take care of things properly. Greens (and the other really minor parties) are almost entirely fixated on a single issue to the exclusion of all else.

It was true 20+ years ago when Linda Ellerbee said it and wrote it, and it’s even more true today: the GOP and the Democratic parties are Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber.

Am I being unfair? I don’t think so.

There’s not enough space here to adequately explain how shameful I think our political system, and our culture as a whole, has become. And no political party has the priorities and principles I seek to demonstrate and to encourage in our leaders: Integrity. Honesty. Humility. Service. Making justice and the promotion of the general welfare the first priority. Truly caring for “the least and the lost” not just giving lip service.

This is what my faith says is most important; this is what it takes for us to really and truly be “the greatest nation on Earth.” To act with justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with my God who has called me to love others as he loves me and them. To fight the good fight, because the system, as large as it is, can be changed; I will not be moved, nor will I fail, for “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I will continue to strive for a better nation, to seek and to call people to higher principles and ideals…and until there is a political party that seeks that as well, I will have nothing to do with them, or politics-as-usual.

Geek Help, part 1

Recently I picked up a new “client” (so to speak) in my unofficial capacity as resident tech support for family and friends. The home computer of folks my wife knows was infested with one of those malware applications pretending to be anti-virus software and rather then them take the computer to somewhere disreputable like Geek Squad, I fixed it for them pretty quickly and easily, and took the time while the cleaner program I use was running to educate the guy on what to watch out for.

It made me think of all the people—family, friends, members of my church, so-called IT people I worked with at Hopkins—who I’ve taught about computer infections over the years, and maybe rather than repeat myself I should, I dunno, put up a tutorial somewhere like a ‘blog, y’know?

I won’t try to cover everything in one post. Let’s start with what, exactly, infects your computer, what they do and what they look like, and in the next Geek Help post we’ll talk about how to clean ‘em out, and in part 3 we’ll talk about how to reduce your risk of getting them in the first place.

If you’re attacked, it’s most likely because you’re a Windows user. I don’t say that with a holier-than-thou attitude because I’m now primarily a Mac user (and yes, we are seeing exploits on Macs), I say it because Windows is the most widely-used personal computer system. If you’re writing a program to exploit computer users, are you going to write one for 5% of personal computer users (Linux), 7% of computer users (Mac) or 86% of computer users out there—where are you going to get the best bang for your buck, so to speak? In fact, it’s the popularity of Android coupled with its openness that has made it the easier target for exploits in the mobile world, while iOS remains safer, relatively-speaking.

There are ways to protect yourself, but you first have to know what you’re protecting yourself from. Here’s what you will face, if you are on-line and use a computer long enough:

Malware is a portmanteau of “malicious software”. The key is that it is something that either gets installed without your knowledge or permission, or lies or otherwise misleads you as to its purpose or intention. There are legitimate applications out there that could fall into this definition partially or entirely, but for now let’s think in terms of “evil”.

Spyware is a specific category of malware that’s designed to collect data from your computer or spy on your activities. Spyware might watch what websites you go to and report that information back to a data aggregator/miner, or collect personal data such as accounts and passwords (email, shopping, banking…), or filter your Internet activity through itself and serve you different ads than the ones websites want you to see.

Spyware is not generally self-propagating, so it’s not as though you would get infected by someone else’s spyware or that spyware on your machine would infect others. But that’s only a rule-of-thumb. Always treat malware as highly contagious.

Adware is a specific type of spyware designed to serve advertisements to your computer. It routes all Internet activity through itself and may either serve pop-up ads at you from time-to-time, or replace legitimate ads on web pages with ones from its organization (e.g., replacing all car ads on web pages with an ad for Hummer).

Trojans are the malware I most see these days because they are the sneakiest, most deceptive sons-of-seacooks out there. The name, obviously, comes from the Trojan horse, and tells you what this malware is: something bad designed to look like something nice. It could be a program that piggy-backs on a legitimate program—a less-evil example of this are the so-called “toolbars”, “browser enhancements”, and “download assistants” you get with many printers, cameras, and other digital media devices today. Or it could be a program that pretends to be something else. The biggest example are the pop-up ads you get on the Internet that look like a warning message from your computer that you’ve been infected and that you need to download such-and-such anti-virus or whatever “right now” to be protected. Thinking this is a legitimate alert, you click “download” and now you’ve just infected yourself with the very thing that you thought you were protecting yourself from.

Think of worms as the truck drivers who deliver the malware. Worms merely propagate without altering the system they’re on, though in corporate environments they can slow networks to a crawl because they “clog the pipes” in their effort to propagate to as many machines as possible. The real danger is that worms can carry “payloads”: other programs that commit the evil acts. They may open a “backdoor” into a computer, allowing other programs to be installed or the computer to be hijacked, or they may be the first-wave of infiltration of other, larger, more malevolent programs.

Viruses and worms bear some similarities; in some ways viruses are the common ancestor of all the above evil. The first virus I was ever infected with was the Ethan Fromme virus. It did one thing: it changed all Word documents on the computer so that the author of the document was “Ethan Fromme”. Big whup, right? But if someone could use the code that did that and changed it to make Outlook replace the names of all your contacts with the name Pete Zaah, it could cripple businesses that rely on Outlook.

So now you know what can infect you. Next time we’ll go to the computer doctor’s office and get ourselves a does of antibiotics for our computers!

As I write this…

As I write this it has been 11 months since I last wrote something here…not for want of something to write, but for want of something worth sharing. Part of it, to be candid, is because for the past year I’ve been working with a mental health professional on what I like to call my puppy dog tendencies…what a local funeral director in town I really like to work with calls his ‘chocolate lab moments’…what clinicians like to call ADD. Funny, but I find I’m a calmer, more thoughtful person here almost a year later, not as quick to share whatever thought enters my head at any given moment, and not as prone to fits of, well, anger about things that have no direct impact on me, like the post I wrote a while back about Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson. There are more important things in life to think about and talk about.

Which leads me to why there’s been a drought on Mor Beal. I refuse to be one of those people who talks about the minutiae of my day, what the weather’s like, what my mood is, what food I’m eating. Well, maybe that last one—but not here! You’ll have to check that out over at the cooking ‘blog I’m starting of the experiences of my wife and I in the kitchen and on the grill. But the more time I’ve spent on the Intartubes reading other peoples’ blogs and Facebook and Google+, the more I realize that far too much of what is posted means little in the grand scheme of things. And don’t even get me started on the dehumanizing  personality of the Internet, especially in places like Reddit and Fark.com!

I encourage those who take meeting minutes to use what I call the 10/100 Rule. For, say, a work or brainstorming session, what will we need to remember about what we did 10 days and 100 days from now? For a management meeting, what will those in authority need to know 10 months or 100 months from now? For something like my church board of elders, what will those who come after us need to know 10 years or 100 years from now?

I think the same should be true of ‘blogs…or at least I promise to make that true of this ‘blog.

 

(Wish I’d written this four years ago when I started here…!)

You Never Sausage A Messy Church!

Laws are like sausages — it is best not to see them being made.
Otto von Bismarck, first Chancellor of Germany

 

Bismarck’s quote from the 19th century is even more true today than it was in his day.

Whether it’s Washington County’s commissioners wrestling with capital improvements, delegates in Annapolis wrangling over tuition rates for state universities, or Congress arguing over debt ceilings and entitlement programs and the budget, governing is a messy affair.

That’s no less true for church governance than in the larger society. Session elders regularly have to deal with the messy bits tangentially-related (or sometimes unrelated) to the ministry of the church. Gatherings of the entire presbytery can be both uplifting and a grinding burden as we revisit the same issues over and over and over with no progress let alone resolution. Many Presbyterians have no idea what General Assembly is, when it meets, or what goes on there. (Hint: it’s the bi-annual national convening of representatives from every presbytery.)

Now, stay with me, as this might seem dry and boring at first and you might be tempted to roll your eyes and think, “Oh, jeez, not this stuff”, but we’re going somewhere good here I promise.

The constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is composed of two parts: the Book of Confessions, which is composed of the great and significant credal statements throughout the history of the Church, and the Book of Order, which provides the organizational and operational framework of our denomination.

Neither is static, cast in stone. The Book of Confessions has seen additions as recently as 1983, with the “Brief Statement of Faith” that resulted from the reunification of the northern and southern Presbyterian denominations. The Book of Order is so regularly amended, added-to, revised, tweaked and otherwise tinkered with over the past 28 years as to make it like Bismarck’s sausages.

Last year the General Assembly sent to the presbyteries a few items to vote on to “fix” the Book of Order, the second part of our denomination’s constitution, which provides the organizational and operational structure of our denomination. The Book of Order is so regularly amended, added-to, revised, tweaked and otherwise tinkered with over the past 28 years as to make it like Bismarck’s sausages. In trying to fix what’s broken we just break it more.

One such example is the so-called “Fidelity and Chastity amendment”, an addition to the Book of Order in 1997 which very specifically addresses sexuality and ordination standards. It’s bad government, in part because it’s largely ignored by those churches who want to ordain people who are gay or lesbian, and in part because it’s not enforced by churches that do want to uphold the standard. But more importantly, it is so poorly worded that my congregation is technically in violation of it because we have art in our worship space—graphics in our PowerPoint and images in our stained glass windows. So one of those “fixes” we as a denomination had to vote on was whether or not to remove this section from the Book of Order.

It is things like this that gave impetus to Presbyterian polity wonks to seek to completely revamp the Form of Government section of the Book of Order. After 28 years it’s a bit of a mess. In my opinion the problem has been that the changes to the Book of Order have focused on micromanaging doctrine, fixated on the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. But, in my opinion, once again in a good-hearted effort to fix what’s broken, we’ve just replaced one broken thing with another.

One of the clearest examples we have of Jesus’ own position on such things as polity and governance is from the 12th chapter of Matthew’s gospel. As happened so many times, the religious leaders protest that Jesus and his disciples are violating laws governing the Sabbath and Jesus responds, “…it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath”.

Whether it is the Book of Order or Robert’s Rules of Order or the old Presbyterian saw about “doing things decently and in order”, the highest standard is not whether we are following the rules, doing the proscribed steps, adhering to the letter of the law. The highest standard is to always, always, ALWAYS measure our thoughts, our decisions, our actions by the following questions:

How does this advance the Kingdom, the living embodiment of the Good News of Jesus in the world through us, right here, right now?
Do we believe this is pleasing to God?

Act on the answers to those questions, and we will never go wrong.

“…And We’re All Still Here.”

The title of this post is taken from a story I was told by a fellow seminary student from Baltimore back in 1996. It had been the usual mid-Atlantic 3-H Summer: hazy, hot, humid. Several days of 90+°(F, not C) and 90+% humidity had finally broken in typical fashion, with a late afternoon line of thunderstorms that formed over the Poconos and came roaring across central New Jersey with a vengeance. A group of Summer Language students who were from the West Coast who had never seen anything like this before were standing in the Quad, staring at the post-storm sky—a miasma of golds, reds, slate greys and greens. Dr. Gillespie, the president of the seminary, came out of the Admin building at that moment, and came over to the group of students. He, too, started at the sky, and then said, “Huh. Just as I always thought: the Rapture happened…” he looked down at the students and with a twinkle in his eyes deadpanned, “…and we’re all still here.”

As I write this, Harold Camping’s absolute, unequivocal prediction of May 21, 2011, as Judgment Day has come and gone…and we’re all still here.

It would be easy to mock him and his followers, as many have already done long before this day proved Camping wrong (again). Heck, I’ve been sorely tempted myself to crack jokes at their expense. As I rode the tractor around the back lawn Saturday, I thought to myself “If Camping is right, I’m going to be p.o.-ed that I spent my last moments in this life mowing the freaking grass!” But the people who spent their life savings, spent years traveling to tell others, who decorated their cars with messages about Judgment Day deserve neither derision, nor pity. We have more in common with them than any of us would want to admit.

In their book Lucifer’s Hammer, authors Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle describe something they dub “Hammer Fever”: as a comet (nicknamed “the Hammer”) threatens to hit the Earth and wipe out civilization, some people not only embrace the idea but look forward to it. Network news reporter Harv Randall reflects that people do so because they hate their jobs, their marriages, their lives, they want out of their mortgages, their responsibilities, and they see “the Hammer”, the comet, as a way out.

It comes down to one word: hopelessness. Camping, and others with an eschatological obsession, look at the world and all they can see is insurmountable problems…how the greedy triumph and the powerless are exploited, how the good suffer and the evil seem to prosper, an explosive population growth and global climate change, and “wars and rumors of wars”, nation against nation, famines and earthquakes, increasing wickedness and love grows cold, abominations and desolations… And they are overwhelmed.

What is needed in the aftermath of the Judgment Day That Wasn’t is for all of us to not only find but promote those places of hope in our lives and in the world around us with the same commitment and passion Campings followers had for promoting The End.

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