Why Wikipedia is mad at me (and why I deserve it)

October 26, 2009

So, for those of you who read my previous post on my wikipedia experiment, you may notice that int he comments, many wiki-folks were none too pleased about my “experiment.” The common strand in their thoughts was that what I was doing was not as innocuous as I had thought, but was doing damage to their project, and was undermining what they try to do over there.

In hindsight, it was irresponsible. I came to the project with a couple of assumptions (both conscious and subconscious):

1. Since wikipedia belongs to the people, I can do what I want with it

2. What I did had no long lasting harm to anyone

3. Since I was doing it with the intention of gaining data and quantifying information and whatnot, it was ok. You can do anything in the almighty name of SCIENCE!

In the end, I don’t know if all of these are legit. First off, you can’t just mess around with someone’s project and think that it is OK. It does not matter how I view the legitimacy of the information on Wikipedia. It does not matter what I think about their work. It matters that they are trying to put something together and I was tinkering with it for my own curiosity. That is no good.

On top of the fact that I, in practice, do use wikipedia as an authoritative source. And, to be honest, you do too. Maybe not for papers, maybe not for scholarly works, but if you want to know a bit of trivia about anything, and you find it on wikipeida, you believe it. When I ask when Martin Luther was born, and the first entry on google is the wikipedia page, I doubt that very many people at all say to themselves: “I can’t check wikipedia, it is not a credible source.”

So, all in all, my idea was ill advised, and I am going to desist from adding false information to wikipedia in order to test the wiki-editor response time.  I did not mean harm, but harm was done. And so….

Sorry wikipedia. I won’t do it again.

My Wikipedia experiment

October 8, 2009

Today was the beginning of what will probably end up some weird hobby of mine.

It started with a joke about the Newsboys with a friend. At the end of our witty interchange, he added a false single in 1997 to the Newsboys Wikipedia page. 1 hour and 15 minutes later, the revision had been undone.

That kind of speed is impressive.

So, this made me want to see how quickly wikipedia can correct itself. How good are their editors? Was it a fluke?

I needed more source data

So, I went ahead and made a slight revision to the page un Huldrych Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer and contemporary of Martin Luther. I wanted the false fact to be indisputably false (not just a debatable opinion), and yet not glaringly obvious (Like “Also, Zwingli invented the light bulb and flew into space”)

[I would like to note, that while I considered this to be an interesting study, my wife considers it just being a jerk.  She does have a point.]

So, in the historical context section, I added that Zwingli participated in the Old Zurich War, which ended about 40 years before Zwingli was born.

Ten hours later, it was still on the site. I took it down, as to not be a TOTAL jerk, although inside I seriously wonder how long it could have stayed.

Now, it was inserted (accidentally) right before a footnote which was intended for something else, potentially making it look more credible, and thus would be passed by on first glance by an editor. But why did it make it so long, while an addition of a single to a Christian rock band’s library was so quickly corrected?

I feel like there is some sort of potential spiritual truth here, and maybe even a criticism of Wikipedia or postmodernism or the wiki-trend as a whole.  But that is for a later post.

What is really important is that I may have found a new fun thing to do. I plan on collecting more source data on figuring out how long it takes for errors to be corrected on Wikipeida. Expect either more blog posts or an entirely new blog on the subject.

**Edit – see my apology in the next blog post: https://foolmusings.wordpress.com/2009/10/26/why-wikipedia-is-mad-at-me-and-why-i-deserve-it/

rock concert church

June 7, 2009

Today I got the following question via text message from a friend:

“What are the implications of the parallel between the rock show/movie theater experience and the contemporary worship service experience? Positive and negative.”

First off,  I love having friends who write text messages in English rather than that awful hybrid “txt” language. Makes me feel like the medium isn’t necessarily plunging the English language into oblivion (as if I had room to make such judgments – see: my punctuation in this post)

Now that I have sated my need for a tangent, on to the question at hand. I am a bit of a biased source for these sorts of questions. I moved away from mainstream Evangelicalism almost entirely for this reason.  Because I did not want to attend a rock show on Sunday mornings, I wanted to worship God.

I can hear the backlash already: “Rock music can be worship!” “You are just a sour traditionalist,” “Make a joyful NOISE unto the LORD” etc. I know, I know. I was there at one point in my life. I made those arguments. And those statements are not invalid. This discussion often hinges on electric guitars and drum sets, which are part but not the root of the issue.

I dislike when worship looks more like a rock concert exactly because of how powerful I know rock concerts are. Or, I should say, because of how that emotional power happens. When I saw Five Iron Frenzy play on their farewell tour, I was swept away. This was a band that I had come to love and fanatically pledge allegiance to for years of my life. They were playing not just songs from their final album, but a wide range from their entire library including a medly off old songs that had not been played for years. It was amazing. When they finished their set with their timeless ‘Every New Day’ (still my favorite song of all time), I was a big ball of emotion. The response of everyone in the room was palpable. I will remember that concert for a long time.

“So should that not be a model for worship? A palpable experience that we remember? A time where we get swept up in how great God is?” Maybe, the experience alone can’t be the aim. I love those concerts, but they accomplish something very different than what worship should be. Worship – and therefore Sunday morning (or Wednesday night or Saturday evening) worhsip services – is all about giving glory to God.  It is about coming together as a congregation and singing to Him. But often in ‘contemporary’ (a broad term which almost has no definite meaning at this point) worship service where there is this rock band feel, the congregation can’t hear themselves sing, they can’t hear each other sing, and they are all drowned out by the band on the stage.

Even that term, ‘stage,’ makes me want to cringe.  By calling the front of your sanctuary a ‘stage,’ you are saying that there are performers, not leaders. You then have to call the congregation an audience – who are then not joinging in song but observing. When worship is a rock concert, it is not congregational worship, because it is about an audience watching someone else worship.

And while rock concert churches might say that they don’t actually believe this,  there is a phrase I learned this year in school that sheds some light: “lex credendi lex orandi,” loosely translated “the law of worship is the law of belief.”  How we worship shows what we believe.  The church fathers used this to defend Christ’s divinity – He is worshipped as God, so either they were idolaters or Christ was truly divine. Similarly, someone might say that loud music overpowering the congregation does not intend to make them feel excluded from worship – but look at the rock concert for an example. When is the audience most encouraged to sing along? When they cut the music and turn the microphones away from the stage. When you use terminology and methodology that turns your congregation into an audience, no matter what you say about worship, your actions have spoken your beliefs.

Now, this goes the other way as well. A congregation that sings hymns with no feeling, that seems to hate having to sing in the first place, and that seems to dread music says a lot about worship through their actions. To give some positive spin on the ‘contemporary’ (there’s that word again!) worsihp scene, there is a reminder to ‘traditional’ folks that God cares about our hearts. God wants us to love Him, and that happens with our emotions. As my pastor said today in his sermon “doctrine does not work until it is lived.” If you are singing to God, and make it look like you are bored, something is wrong.

To sum up my rant here, the issue of the rock concert church is one of properly leading God’s people in worship. If you turn them into an audience, either through terminology or performance choices you have failed at your job of guiding them in an offering of music to the LORD.

P.S. Big thanks to my dad, Dr. Melvin Unger, who has talked with me about these things for countless hours, and is influential in my theology of worship. He is also a terrific writer

new Bible

May 3, 2009

One of the worst parts about having my briefcase stolen is that I lost my Bible and moleskine. Now, I wasn’t an avid notetaker, certainly not as much as most. I underlined a verse here and there, and I would go through a week or two when I would be writing all sorts of life changing tidbits of knowledge in my journal so I could reflect and be changed in the future. But for the most part, I only had a few things in there.

But those few things were comfortable. My moleskine had a feel to it after I had put it in my back pocket and sat on it so many times. I had a clever Easter haiku. My Bible would easily open to 1 Corinthians because I once was reading it while it was lightly raining, and the pages were forever morphed by their encounter. A friend wrote that it was to me from “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.” Not very inspirational, but it made me laugh. It was comfortable.

I am realizng that a lot of my spirituality was found in the comfort of that thinline ESV and it accompanying jounral. Every time I thought about buying a new part, I ouldn’t bring myself to do it because of what I had invested in those items. 

Potentially, I put too much into them. My faith shouldn’t feel rattled because I am reading from a different copy of a translation of a copy of a copy of what Paul wrote. The words are no different (sticking with the ESV). This one is not red-letter (which is good or bad, depending on who I’m talking to).  

But in thinking about it, there is a lot of our faith that gets tied up in comfort. The church building, the people, the translation. And I am not sure if that is innherently bad, but I am going to try and guard myself into turning that bound group of pages into my faith, which can be aided by the comfortable, but can’t be defined by it.

It can’t be about me

March 19, 2009

This ties into what the last post was about, but what I do can’t be about me.

I heard recently from a friend that pastors should not stay at churches longer than 10 years (or even 5), because at that point what becomes most important is not God or the gospel but the pastor. The person can’t be the center of the ministry.

So, I can’t be what Zao Anglican Youth Ministry is all about. I can not be the center. When students show up, it can not be because they want to see me, but because they want what the ministry is all about – a community that draw them closer to Christ.

But it is hard to make that the case. It is hard not to try to be a funny, charismatic person (not that I succeed at that…). Being funny helps people like you. People like to come to hear someone they like.

I pray that I learn how to point past myself, so that students know that the real reason I do anything is to try and figure out how to get them to love Christ and others more.

Christian celebrity

February 24, 2009

I learned a lot about the status of Christian celebrities through the Christian music scene.

My first big lesson about what it means to be in the spotlight was after a Christian concert. An artist (whose name I will leave out) had a long line of adoring fans just waiting for his autograph. His set went late, and because he was tired, he only signs a few things belonging to fans. Many adolescent girls were sorely disappointed. My friends were among them. They left wishing they would have been lucky enough to just get to speak with him face to face.

The other lesson came from the same music festival, albeit a different year. I went to see my favorite band play, and since they were early in the evening, they were walking around and meeting people. I, like any ninth grade boy, ran around trying to find all of them, seeing if they would sign my tshirt. After finding several, I ran across the lead singer. I awkwardly approached and asked for his autograph.

And he said no.

But it was his reason that stuck with me. He said that he doesn’t consider himself anything special, and didn’t want anyone to hold him on a pedestal, so he didn’t want to sign any autographs to make him seem like a big deal. I was disappointed,  but that encounter has stuck with me for a while.

And I overheard him give that same answer to fans every time I saw the band live.

Two different pictures of celebrity – one who won’t sign autographs because he doesn’t have the time, another because he didn’t want to seem like a big deal.

Christian celebrity seems like, to me, an oxymoron. If the purpose of all Christians is to point to Christ, then any Christian should not try and be known, but rather to try and make Christ known. When I am at my best, I hope that anyone who hears my lessons completely forgets that it was me who gave it, but remembers whatever truth God spoke through (and despite) me. I am rarely that humble in mindset, but I think that should still be the goal.

Now, you can’t totally say no one should be known. Apostles were known, bishops are known, and fame isn’t always bad. But there is a certain tension we should all feel when we hear a preacher or an artist or anyone that we admire, between knowing that they do what they do well, and focusing on the fact that what they do should ultimately have us not think about them, but about God.

How do we reconcile the need for recognizable figures (which contributes to order within the church and being able to recommend good books, etc.) and realizing that we can easily fall into pseudo idol worship and love the messenger instead of the message?

I think I’m turning into a pacifist…

February 18, 2009

Yesterday’s church history class opened up with our professor telling us that we would be covering all that was wrong with the Medieval period of Christianity. We then trudged through the inquisition, rival popes, and the crusades.

There is no need to talk about how bad the crusades were. It did, however, encourage me to think a little bit more about what I think about violence.

I don’t think it is hard to come up with a Biblical argument for non aggression. Personal aggression, that is. There seems to be little or no interpretation room to think that we ought to be a bunch of bullies, pushing each other around. Feel free to prove me otherwise, but I am not sure that citing Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek is proof-texting. I think it is pretty clear that the way of Christ is not one laden with physical attacks.

In fact, even the cross (often used to cite that the Christian God is an angry, violent God) is an argument for personal non aggression. God, in his infinite wisdom, chose for the path to salvation for many to be sacrifice rather than siege. Christ’s victory is found in his submitting to his assailants instead of destroying them, and then raising from the dead showing their physical attacks to have been in vain.

So, enough preface, on to being a peacenik.

So where do we get a justification for war at all?

It is clear that God does not condemn the idea of war. The New Testament seems to allow for soldiers to remain in their occupation (although you could make the case that some Roman soldiers were just meant to keep internal peace rather than external, but I don’t think that argument holds up), and in the Old Testament God calls the people of Israel to war.

Luther made the argument for a just war based on the idea that governments have the right to protect their people – and have been given that charge from God. Romans 13 (among many other passages in the Epistles) makes it pretty clear that Christians are not supposed to try and overthrow the government, because God has given rulers their authority (we can talk about how that works with oppressive dictators another time). Therefore, as just war advocates say, governments have authority to use their power for governing their people, including their protection.

Other may dispute this, but practically it seems unthinkable that any country would not have an army or any system of defense. And whether or not you agree with the current war being waged, the logic of strike first is not completely flawed, nor is the idea that the big kid on the playground has a duty to look out for the little guy (a concept that would not be hard to draw out of the sundry commands in the OT prophets for Israel to watch out for the oppressed). You know, Uncle Ben “With great power comes great responsibility” business.

So what is my problem?

My problem is that when I over simplify the situation, I believe that killing someone else to stop them from killing you is not right. It is more than possible that this has different implications in a war setting, (God did not allow murder in Israel, but did allow for war), but it is still a mental, ethical hurdle that I struggle with.

My problem is the fact that when I became a citizen of the United States, I pledged to take up arms to protect Constitution if necessary. And I have no idea if I could do that with singleness of mind. I understand that there are many brave, and honourable Christians who are part of the armed forces, and by no means do I think that what they do is wrong.

I do think that Christians (particularly Evangelicals) support sending missionaries to the 10/40 window and sending more troops to the middle east without ever thinking that there might be a contradiction in those efforts. This is an over simplification, but the internal struggle should be there.

I don’t have answers to this one. This is my personal, ethical gordian knot that I am working through. War may be a necessary evil, a product of a fallen world that still needs to be redeemed by Christ, an unfortunate last option when peace is not an option, but none of that changes the undeniable fact:

War is bad.

tweet you!

January 28, 2009

I have now had a couple of conversations about social networking and actual human interaction, so I thought I might put some of the results on here.

I will start off by saying that I have a facebook, a rarely used myspace, a twitter, and some abandoned blogs, and this blog. I spend a considerable amount of time on the internet, and probably most of it is wasted.  If there is any finger pointing about using technology badly, I am the recipient.

These conversations I have had usually revolve around the benefit, real or imagined, of social networking and online friendships. Am I any closer to the friends I connect with on facebook because of facebook?

I would say: hardly. I do keep in touch with a couple of friends via facebook, and before that we would send the occasional e-mail. Now there is an easy interface through which to plan our usual get together around Christmas. Most of the stuff I do on facebook is not necessarily because of facebook, but it certainly provides a trendy and easy way to look at my friend’s wedding pictures.

What I do have because of facebook is a connection to hundreds of friends that I did not keep in touch with after high school/when I moved to the States/after college. That connection is mostly fake. I see what they are up to, I comment on what they are doing every once in a blue moon. I’m not actually friends with them again, facebook just gives us a chance to perpetually accidentally run into each other in the virtual realm. Make quick small talk, then forget about each other again.

What facebook can do is replace actual relationships. People have important conversations (about important topics) with each other without being able to read vocal cues or body language (what I might suggest is critical to interacting with someone else). But it is simpler, faster, and easier. Friendship lite – being able to say you are close without really interacting with others.

I am nowhere near perfect in my use of the internet. I see friends online that I should call, and I instead send them a short message. I pull back and use it as an excuse to not invest in some of the people I hold near and dear. What has become a temptation for me is to keep every relationship I hold at some sort of maintaining level – commenting on facebook or referencing in a tweet merely to keep the glowing embers of a friendship alive so I can talk to them when I really feel like it. Like keeping people interested so that should my fancy ever strike, I can have a pleasant phone call to make me feel good and then not call them again for a year.

Basically, to try and tie up my ramblings, my thoughts are based on the idea that technology is neutral – it can’t destroy intimacy and close relationsihps. We have to do that all by ourselves. If we use our iPhones and laptops and facebooks and tweets to replace actual human interaction, we are cheapening what God has given us in other people by keeping them at a distance. If we augment our social lives by keeping in touch with each other occasionally, it can be just another way to find out who is bringing the Doritos.

how much judging can we really do?

July 7, 2008

I am all over the place on this topic. I have seen many people in the blogosphere roast every last quotation of Rob Bell – dissecting what they believe he MUST mean when he says things, and on the other side I was criticized for mocking the Universal Life Church over at my internet junk blog.

Well, here are my thoughts (why else would you be here?):

1. I am a big fan of giving people the benefit of the doubt. I mean, to a fault. If I were an atractive girl, I would totally always go back to the jerk who cheated on me.  When it comes to theological writing, I feel like we should really assume that there is something good that we could extract from what people write. Romans 1 seems to suggests that everyone has a generic understanding of God hard-wired into them, and I think that can provide some insight. This, unfortunately, leads me to…

2. Human writers are going to be, in some way, wrong. Some, much more than others (see: my potshots at the ULC) but no one has everything nailed down. Not only does the Bible affirm that we have the image of God, but we also, deep down, are crappy people. Until Jesus returns in glory, we are all going to do some egregiously bad things. We might not all be arsonists and murderers, but that doesn’t mean we won’t yell at the McDonald’s worker for no good reason every now and again. That badness that plagues us affects everything, including our understanding of God.

So, how much judging can one really do? On one hand, you should really be kind and assume that everyone is really trying to speak truth about God. On the other hand, people suck and we better watch out because there is bound to be some sort of lie just waiting to infect my already sin plagued psyche.

Here is my proposal. And by my proposal, I mean a proposal already stated somewhere else that I like. Everything really should go through the same filter – whether it is my best friend or the kid who beat me up in elementary school, everyone deserves to be heard out for what they have to say. When you come to any piece of media (books, video, blog-o-net) with a personal vendetta against the author, you are just setting yourself up to miss something good. But to remain in accordance with point 2, we really have to scrutinize what we intake. There is lots of crap out there, and I ought not just take everything in. Some stuff is really wrong.

For example – the universal life church website offers their online absolution. They confirm the idea that it is good to try and lead a good life. I can read this and reaffirm the fact that my faith is not about thinking right things alone, but about also acting on those convictions. They also affirm forgiving others, which is something that Jesus commands us to do.

But then we get to the part where my filter kicks in. The lack of mention of Christ on their ‘Instant Absolution’ site destroys the idea of forgiveness. We can’t just forgive ourselves, and a javascript form just doesn’t have the authority to proclaim that I am forgiven. No, that power belongs alone to God. And then it goes on from there.

The point is this: in Philippians Paul talks about not caring the motive behind some preaching the gospel as long as Christ is preached. Since everyone has the ability to say something true, we should give them a chance. But, since everyone makes more mistakes than not, we shouldn’t ingest what they say without thinking.

P.S. ULC offers a ‘Doctor of the Universe’ diploma. If I ever meet someone with said credentials, I refuse to refer to them with the title ‘doctor.’ Just not gonna do it.

Truth and change

July 7, 2008

So, oddly enough, I had an interesting thought while listening to Flobots.

For those of you who don’t know, Flobots is the band whose recent hit ‘handlebars’ is currently getting some moderate radio airplay. They are also very heavy handed in their opinions. If you generally like subtlety, the government, or American foreign and Domestic policiesi, I would highly recommend you avoid their music. I like them dispite the “bludgeon you over the head with our opinions” lyrics which they give me. Mostly because every now and then, at heart, I secretly want to be a peaceful guerilla liberal, protesting war peacefully and starting revolutionary community programs.

So while I am listening to claims made about the terrible ethics in the government (specifically the idea that we have been ‘overthrowing leaders with legitimate views, democratically elected but we didn’t approve’) when I thought about the effect that this would have on my life, were it true. What if everything they said about the government were true, and they were really doing all sorts of terrible things, and killing people for private industry? I certainly, as a Christian, could ot let that sort of thing go by without trying to somehow correct it, eh? I would want to do something, anything, to change that fact. Were that completely true, it would require me to make some sort of change.

Truth, especially truth that contradicts how we currently think, often requires some sort of change. And I think this is why there is so much resistance to truth. If Wal Mart really is mistreating their workers,  destroying small businesses across the country, and forcing distributors to lower their prices or else lose a giant client, then I really ought not support that business. But, if I ignore this truth, if I turn a blind eye, then I can continue to save money on all my purchases and live a content life.

This is a clear pragmatic foundation for the insistance that truth can be relative. If something can be true for you and not for me, then I can afford to stay exactly how I am. If I can remain comfortable and not change my personal status quo, then all is well. I will not accept something that tells me to change, because I have things set up juts how I like them, thank you very much.

But what I want to focus on is not postmodernism (because that dead horse is being beaten by a thousand different bloggers). No, I think it is Christians who need to hear this message.

Because there are lots of truths that upturn our apple cart and force us to change and act. An easy target is capitalism. I know we won the cold war (USA! USA! USA!), but perfection is not found in a system that tells everyone to work for themselves and do whatever it takes to build up what they can, without restrictions. For the Christian, that system says “Love your neighbour by telling them the gospel, but do not be concerned with their financial well being. That is their problem, not yours.” It says that when it comes to money, we should not be encumbered by the society around us. The greater good is nonexistant. So, tear down your proverbial barns, fill them with all your grain, and don’t worry about the poor and oppressed around us. Take a look at the Old Testament prophets if you want an idea about how God feels about that.

I could go on, (I almost did, and had to erase some of what I wrote to get back on topic) but I think you get the idea. When someone points out an error to us, we don’t want to hear it, because truth often requires a change of action.

I recently had to hear a very difficult truth. I was informed (by my awesome wife, without whom I would be a huge jerk) that the way I youth minister is very me focused. More than a few events or policies that I planned were more because I liked them, rather than looking out what was best for the group. I did not like to hear that, and it is still hard to swallow. But I am learning that what is most important is not me feeling comfortable with what is going on, but me hearing truth and changing so that my life looks more and more like what God wants it to be.

To bring this full circle, back to my good friends the Flobots, I would like to think that every condemnation that they throw out is left wing, pinko commie stuff. But maybe it isn’t, and maybe what I need to do is take a hard look at how things really are. And if I find out that there is really a need for change, may God give me the strength to do what I ought to make a difference. Because if God’s people do not serach for truth and correct what is wrong, then who are we expecting to do the job for us?