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This is a companion piece to my previous post, “On Obsolete Hardware.”

Right now I'm writing this blog post on the most recently manufactured piece of computer hardware in my household, a Dell XPS 13 made in, I think, 2020. It was originally my wife's computer for school, during a time where she was going to be lugging it back and forth to class and to internship sites, and portability was king. I used a Dell XPS 15, which I bought on Linus Sebastian's recommendation back in 2016 the last time I went to school. In the time between when my wife graduated and now, our needs and wants have shifted, so she now uses my XPS 15, with it's larger screen and better onboard IO, and I use her XPS 13, with it's lighter weight and better battery life.

It's funny how our decisions and preferences change over time. For example, I don't take Linus's recommendation on anything anymore, since he was exposed to me ( and a lot of people) as a productivity and output obsessed Boss, and there is a lot of worker-owned content out there that deserves my support more. Back when I bought that XPS 15, and really when I gave my recommendation to my wife for her XPS 13, I was much more sensitive to, specifically, how “snappy” the computer feels to use. How responsive it is to input, how quickly it renders photos, how smooth the video playback is.

As I reflected in my previous post, this computer is objectively better than CrunchStation or his brother SwayBook (a 2015 Macbook Pro running Debian and Sway) in almost every way. Swaybook probably has the edge on display quality, and CrunchStation probably wins the crown in doorstop potential, but the XPS 13 has them beat on everything else. The CPU performance, in comparison to it's brothers, is particularly good, even though it's “only” an i5 mobile unit.

Yet, it doesn't have a name. I don't have the same history with this computer that I do with the others, even the one I recently handed off to my wife. Having opened it up, once, I've confirmed there's not a lot really to upgrade. The RAM and CPU are soldered on, so there's really just a battery repair or a storage upgrade to consider in the future, and any other repairs that might come up.

There's a.... well maybe a cultural artifact or a consequence of my upbringing that manifests itself as an unspoken and unnoticed instinct to make purchasing decisions based on my personal values. Baked in to this is a couple of problematic identities and behaviors that I don't like taking on, things like an identity as a “consumer” that my capitalistic environment stamped me with as I arrived in this world, things like expressing my personal beliefs by going out and buying something. This has been reflected on in the environmentalist space for years, this sort of “Plastic is not sustainable, recycling is a scam, I'm going to go out and buy glass containers and throw away my plastic ones” when the better thing for the environment is to keep using the plastic containers you already have! Don't go out and buy a new thing, “consume” a new object to express your identity as a “we should consume less” person!

This creates a tension inside my heart. I'm very very interested in the MNT Reform Next platform, an upcoming revision and refinement of their original Reform laptop to, hopefully, make it just a little more luggable. I love how repairable and upgradeable it is. I love how it ships a trackball by default. I love how it's made to last for a decade or more. I would love to buy one.

Can I justify it, though? If I apply the thrift I advocated for last time, can I look at this pile of lovely and useful electronic wizardry, this embarrassment of computing riches the Lord has blessed my household with, and say “Yes, the thing I need is another computer. This will look lovely next to the other ones.”

Do I just say no? Do I rotate it out with something else I don't need anymore? Do we bargain and haggle and negotiate with ourselves so that we can have the thing that we want, or do we just say “No. I have more than enough.” Can we do that in this modern age? Can we recognize it as admirable when it happens?

Maybe I'll get one anyways, just for fun. I don't know what the future holds. If the pricing is anything like the current pricing, it won't be an impulse decision. The thing that keeps me going in circles with Capitalism and Modernism is that the move I just described, to refuse to buy something as an expression of my values, is only marginally better than insisting on buying something as an expression of my values. Both cede the frame to this present evil age, both give weight to my purchasing decisions that make the way I spend my money a very very important part of my moral life and existence.

It's the modernist move, to make religious conviction a matter of how you “personally” “act” to “express” that conviction. If something like the Gospel is true, it's true for everyone, not just me personally. If the Gospel is true, it's true regardless of my actions. If the Gospel is true, it doesn't need me to express belief in it to make it true. That's Paganism.

So don't be surprised if I end up buying a new computer. Just maybe be surprised if it's another unserviceable, un-upgradeable ultrabook. I already have one of those.

I have a particular fascination with “obsolete” hardware.

I'm writing this right now on a Dell Latitude W830 workstation, made for professional use cases c. 2007. The darned thing feels like it's a full inch thick, literally the maximum possible size of computer that would fit in my backpack. Like all loved objects, it has a name, though the name changes based on the operating system running on it at the time. For a while it was HaikuStation, but today it is CrunchStation, since we're using CrunchBang++ as our operating system today. The keyboard is phenomenal, and before I dug it out of my father's closet, it had been laid to rest and ignored for maybe five to seven years.

I've done a few minor upgrades, but the largest one by far was giving Windows the boot. It originally ran Windows XP, and it would run Windows 7 ok, but not with anything like the responsiveness that Debian+ can provide. I swapped the HDD for a SATA SSD early on, swapped the CPU (Because, Hallelujah, this laptop has a socketed CPU!) with one of the nicer compatible ones available, and upgraded the wireless card to something a bit more modern and stable. Hinges needed replacing, that's about the only physical piece of hardware that needed addressing. I would have upgraded the RAM from 4 GB to 8 GB, but it turns out that DDR2 4GB sticks of ram were so rare that they're still $60-100 for a kit of two. That's more than I spent on the whole rest of the computer, though I might still end up doing that upgrade in the future. It's basically the last one to do on this machine.

I think I want to challenge the idea of obsolete computer hardware. This is a common observation in the sustainable computing space, its not the hardware that becomes obsolete, it's the software. What, truly, was stopping me from opening a markdown editor in Windows XP, composing this blog post, and posting it to my write.as page from inside Internet Explorer? Mostly the fact that the internet is a dangerous place for such a necromantic software stack! People don't make security updates for ancient operating systems, and we need that kind of stuff to keep our stuff safe. Nobody is writing a Nextcloud client for XP, XP doesn't support any kind of modern storage formatting standard, I have no idea if Office 365 will open old Office 2007 files in a readable state, the practical problem with this computer that led to it being mothballed for more than half a decade is one of proprietary software support.

The other thing, the thing that is more difficult to combat with a fresh install image of Debian, is the aesthetic preference for a thinner, lighter, “snappier” machine. I won't deny the draw of this kind of thing myself, there's something semi magical about the fact that my normal daily driver, a Dell XPS 13, is smaller, faster, can do more, and (in particular) will blow away CrunchStation in a compilation benchmark. I don't notice it in my backpack. The screen is brighter and sharper. It's a better computer, objectively.

But let's put computing in it's right context. Is my life better because the computer I use is better? Do I need those two minutes of my life back that it saves me when building an app from source? Do I need the small size to make the trip from the parking lot to the coffee shop seat without needing to take a break in between? The one thing I could do with is a better battery, but that's also a convenience item. I'm never more than two strides from a three prong AC outlet in this modern world. I don't even need more RAM, even though there's a deeply built instinct for RAM insecurity in my brain, to gather and hoard RAM (and storage. Is a terabyte enough? No! Where will I keep my 90s Action Movie Collection?) far beyond what is practical. The system, without opening firefox, but with Obsidian open, is running at 1 gb of RAM usage. I'm fine.

If the trackpad was bigger, would I be happier? If the screen were sharper, would I be better able to help those who rely on me? WOULD THE KINGDOM OF GOD BE SERVED BY THINNER DISPLAY BEZELS?

Does computation serve humanity, or does computation expand at humanity's expense?

So I encourage you to cultivate a frugality and thrift with the computers in your life, the kind that would make your grandparents proud. Embrace, Extend, Enliven the “obsolete” in your life.

And for the sake of the world, don't buy another computer unless you can't help it. I'm not looking forward to the summer here when spring started back at the beginning of February.

So I had a wonderful small group meeting last night that made me reflect on a couple things. I want to start with some context, first.

I learned to serve the church in college campus ministry, working with young people that would then shortly move on to the next thing life had for them. We were immersed in what was New, as a student leader and then as a staff person. We were always searching for the new approach, the successful approach, the thing that's working great for that group or the book that that speaker wrote. The turnover in students was incredible and when I look back on this time, I see us chasing our tails a bit, and a bit of the tail wagging the dog. There were many people confidently saying they knew what was Next, which is about the only thing more alluring than what is New. Looking back, they were about as correct as I could have been. Marginally more correct than even odds.

When I left campus ministry (truly, when I grew out of it) I wasn't ready to go to the established, local church. Established churches seem like the land of No for a young person with ideas. “We don't do New here.” I wasn't done with New yet, convinced that Old was the source of our problems, and if New could recover what was Ancient in the church, we might be able to have the best of everything. So we did five years in a local church plant, saw it be born, live it's life, and then die. We were part of the group that brought it in to this world, and part of the group that put it to rest. My appetite for New died with it.

I was left with my conviction that the church needed to do whatever we could to recover the Ancient, the traditions of the Apostolic Age and the generations immediately afterward. I'd read anyone who was still read after a couple hundred years, and almost nobody who'd written a book in the past 50. Old was the problem, and the way out of what was Old would be what was Ancient, a truer and more pure Gospel than the one I had received.

Here's the thing about trying to cut ties with Old. The only reason you've received the Gospel is because of Old. Whether it was your parents or a friend or a neighbor or whoever, they who you received the Gospel from received it from someone else, in an unbroken line all the way back to Jesus of Nazareth. You are here because of Old, even if you despise Old. I'll give you some examples from my own life.

I have my own unhappiness with the dominant form of American Evangelicalism today, which traces its roots to turn of the century Fundamentalism and the phenomenon of yeoman evangelists traveling the country making their living preaching tent revivals, with high pressure calls to repentance and high energy sales tactics from the pulpit. My maternal grandfather, though, was raised in the faith because his father was radically saved as an itinerant hobo at a tent meeting like that, and he became a revivalist himself. My grandfather even met my grandmother while out “on tour” doing the family business. I don't exist the way I am today without those tent revivals I wish we could do without.

I could go on. My dad found Christ during the Moral Majority/Ronald Reagan years. My mom is a single issue pro-life voter. would I rather not be tied to these things? Yes. Yet I am. The Old is my connection to the Ancient, and the benefit the Old has over the New and what's Next is that it's proven, we know how it works and how to do it.

In my small group last night, we had several people who have been serving the Lord far longer than I have even been alive, and who have been part of the church we're now attending for 30+ years. One of the recent things the church has done, in an attempt to recover what's Ancient that I inherently endorsed and loved, has been baptizing believers on Easter Sunday. The Ancient Church used to ONLY baptize new believers on Resurrection Sunday, and only after extensive catechism. I never thought about the practices that something New (as a recovery of what was Ancient) might have displaced, things like musical numbers and drama plays and extensive testimony recitations. Those things, being Old, never registered for me.

The testimony and the longing for the Old in those saints convicted me, that in my anti-modernist heart to find my story not in what's New, but what is Ancient, I had retained my contempt for what's Old. That's a Modernist bias, that the Old is inferior to the New. Truly, the Old is about the only thing that can be faithfully handed down from one generation to the next! I'm not saying that we don't continue to reinterpret, reimagine, to play jazz with the Old in the Now, but to play jazz with the Old is to involve the previous generation, the one that preserved the faith and handed it down to you, in the process of making what is New, together. Far from excluding them from the process, as they often feel, its insisting on bringing them along in to the future, just like Christ insisted on carrying us with him, even when it slowed him down. Even when it got him killed.

So that was just my takeaway from that night. In a church where we've already walked away from what's New, you know, what's the harm in including both the Ancient and also the Merely Old? Christ plays in ten thousand places, after all.

This post was written while blasting the album Omnium Gatherum by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. I apologize in advance.

Sorry for the lack of content lately, folks. I'm working on a longer post that requires some more deliberate drafting and composition, but also I'm not working on the writing super hard and deliberately. Still trying to find the balance between taking this time, for myself, and being available to the family and community for when they need me. I'm sure the Greybeards among you can confirm, the rebalancing is a moving target, and it's never really, you know, “settled”.

That said, I'm going to take a little time today to reflect on a great Mastodon post that I read, and a bit of the reflection my friend Cameron and I had about it. It seemed like a good enough idea to drag out a bit into a thousand words or so.

A direct link to the post in question by Dallas

It's now well documented that #Church attendance is rapidly falling in the US. Even #Evangelical denominations, which were able to stave off the decline for a generation, are now declining rapidly.

Hundreds of theories for the cause of the decline have been presented.

But any theory for why churches have been declining should also be able to explain why virtually EVERY traditional social institution is declining. Membership in everything from the Boy Scouts to the NAACP have been in decline.

These were two things that I had known, but hadn't yet put together in context. And it bent my brain around a bit. For context, for new people, I am from and currently occupy a spiritual tradition that could probably be, more or less, accurately described as adjacent to Evangelical Christianity. We're theologically more diverse than we think we are, but our day to day culture is very often aligned with Evangelicalism, with their celebrities, anxieties and talking points enjoying dominance in our conversations. This isn't my favorite thing, but it makes me broadly literate in the way that Evangelicalism frames it's culture wars, and boy oh boy. The decline in attendance, giving and membership is absolutely laid at the feet of a worldly culture.

This is an “Us v Them” frame that I think is understandable, if regrettable. It's the natural frame for fallen man to fall in to, particularly under stress. The reason our children don't come back to church after they go to college is because of the secularizing influence of state schools, or because we didn't homeschool them. The reason families don't come to church is because of school athletics competing for time, or because both partners are working and don't have time after work to get everyone in the car to Wednesday Bible Study. The reason our empty nesters don't keep coming to church is because we made the whole experience about keeping the kids there etc etc etc. Stop me if you've heard any of these before.

Here's the thing about what Dallas pointed out, though. Whatever it is that's causing the decline in attendance and membership, it's not an attack from the culture against the church. It's a headwind that's affecting both the Church and the culture. We are not suffering under the culture, we are suffering with the culture. Something out there, whether it's a deliberate attack or one of those headwinds that's nobody's fault but everybody's problem, is arrayed against togetherness, belonging, and free association. The enemy is Isolation and Loneliness.

This is a frame that, I think, aligns much more closely to the Heart of Christ. The story of the Incarnation is not to be understood as Christ suffering under the culture, it's best understood as Christ insisting that He will not hold himself above and separate from the suffering of the culture. It's participation in our humanity, taking it on Himself and sharing in it. We are Co-Sufferers with Christ. That's the Crucifixion.

This is the frame that's lost when we cede the frame to Modernism, to think of the struggles of the church as having causes and solutions that exist solely in the individual's conviction and choices. Every solution provided by the Church has predominated along these lines. The solution is biblical literacy, it's home schooling, it's discipleship, it's fighting a ground game in each individual's heart and mind, where success is producing a group of people who cannot fathom leaving the church because the possibility is a non-choice for them.

The solutions left on the table, and often directly maligned, are things like treating the church and the people in it deliberately as a primarily social construct. A pastor who neglects biblical literacy and spends all their time making sure the people in the church are getting along and feel like they belong is derided as a fool and, probably, a liberal. A pastor who neglects the ties that bind the people together and focuses all his time on teaching and literacy from the pulpit will be... well, considered normal by their peers. The Church as Social Club is almost universally derided as a dead and spiritually lifeless construct. Ichabod, The Presence has Departed.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider that when Christ came to us and began His ministry, He started by calling disciples, friends, to Him, and taught them by sharing His whole life with them. Consider how He established His church as a community, a family of faith, not an individual expression of private conviction. We don't have biblical examples of “free range” or “lone wolf” believers, living isolated lives that are still faithful to the scripture and the Gospel. Even St Paul, who spent his whole ministry as an itinerant church planter, wrote over and over how it was his friendships in these communities that sustained his work, it was the people's expression of the love of Christ to him that allowed him to continue on in the work.

Consider that when an Infinite God chose to reveal Himself to mortal man, to make Himself known to His people and, later, His church, He chose to do so either with a one-on-one relationship with a human being, or through narrative in the holy scripture, a narrative that only has any meaning when told in context by a people formed by a lifetime of submission to it. Consider, finally, that you received the faith not from out of nowhere, or from a book, absent any context. Even someone who physically receives the scripture must be taught how to read it. The way the truth has been preserved and the gospel has been shared to you is along an unbroken, hand to hand line of faithful believers. You are connected directly to Christ, not by a cord built (only) of knowledge, or faith, or belief, but by a cord built of human relationships.

“A voice, crying in the Wilderness, 'Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord'.” The Way of the Lord, the way Christ moves through creation and reconquers it in His name, is the friendships and family relationships we have. Preserving that net that binds us together, with seemingly mundane events like cake walks, movie nights, phone trees and card drives, is vitally, critically important pastoral work, and the church would not and will not exist without it.

We're not just a social club, but we certainly are, among other things, a social construct. Maybe that common cause with the social ills of the wider, secular culture will cause us to focus just a little bit more on the real cause of all our ailments, and act as a real force of healing for our whole nation. Man can dream.

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #13

This is maybe less of a LinkFest than an opportunity to share a particular link with you. First, I'll give some backstory.

I am a big ol Japan Fan. I enjoy Japanese media, but in particular I love Japanese stuff. Notebooks, pencils, knives, teapots, cars, consumer electronics, it seems like everything (at least, everything made for export) is the absolute best quality, even if it's a simple, mass manufactured glass teapot. I'm not an expert on Japanese culture, but there is, I think, one important part of it that contributes greatly to their reputation, and that's the word “Shokunin”, or the mastery of one's craft.

In the broad strokes, the shokunin spirit says that mastery of one's craft is not only important to the health and happiness of the individual, but that everyone in your community is counting on you to do your best, just like you're counting on them. We all like to hope that the auto mechanic treats our car as well as their own, or that the person at the grocery store is as kind and patient with our grandmother as we would be. Shokunin, among other things, takes that vague hope and makes it a personal responsibility. I need to take care of this person because I need care in other ways, and we can make a community that can count on eachother if we all take ownership of that possibility.

I was reminded of it while writing last week's blog, “We Are Christ's Ambassadors”, and how well I think it dovetails with the knowledge that Kingdom people are participating with the Holy Spirit in making creation new. More than our community relying on us to do our best, God is encouraging and exhorting us every day that being the best bookkeeper we know to be is Kingdom work, and not just because it creates a good reputation/“witness” with our coworkers. I'll write more on that later, but for now, give this article a read. I'll see you next week.

“Shokunin and Devotion” at Kyoto Journal

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #12

#Christian #Ministry #WorkplaceMissions #Embassy #Japan #Shokunin #Craftsmanship

So, I've got a bit of a pickle on my hands here.

Taylor, Embassy Industrial's Lead Creative and Chief Messaging Officer, has been a wealth of good input on the blog here. He's been much more positive about the pieces that have a looser, more conversational feel. Pro Bono ranks pretty highly for him. I wouldn't weight his perspective so highly if I didn't enjoy writing those kinds of pieces so much more as well. The problem comes where I want to write more about, ostensibly, the topic of the blog, “Embassy”, workplace missions, and every time I sit down to write about it, the tone becomes much more serious and structured.

I'm proud of the work I put in and the pieces that have come out of that brainspace, but I also don't know how great the self-serious tone is, even if the topic is really important to me. All the workplace missionaries I know (people you might call “Regular Ol Jeff from Church”) don't really go in for the stuffy, academic and somber stuff unless someone is leading a book study at church on the topic. Even then, when they have the chance to talk about it themselves, the self-serious and analytic tone of the book isn't really transferred over to the conversation. If I can, I want to write on the level. Saves the hassle of translating back and forth.

So bear with me, a bit. This might be a bumpy landing. Today, I want to pick up where I left off on the Ministry of Reconciliation, which means I want to talk about what I mean when I repeat what St Paul said, that “We are Christ's Ambassadors”.


I don't know if you ever watched a classic of network television called The West Wing. There's an episode early in the first season (I think) called “Lord John Marbury” where the plot revolves around the eccentric Ambassador to The United States from the United Kingdom, the aforementioned Lord John Marbury. Dude gets a whole episode named after him and he's got basically three jobs the entire time:

  1. Be around when the President asks for him
  2. Represent the interests of the United Kingdom during these conversations
  3. Be a pain in Leo's ass whenever allowed

... And he does the third one for free! It's not that far off for any other Ambassador, in the present or in history. Person is supposed to be there, and to accurately represent the interests of their home country. This can look like a lot of different things, people get bored and think of all kinds of things to occupy the Ambassador's time. You might see the French Ambassador attending a middle school performance of a French musical composition, to encourage and support the love and learning of French culture in their host country. The Lebanese Ambassador might be a guest at a prominent social event for Lebanese expats living in America, to strengthen and maintain ties between the elite abroad and their home country. You get the idea. Dude has a simple job, but has latitude to get creative about how they go about it.

The connecting through-line between all these things is that Ambassadors are in the business of personal relationships. Networking. They physically go and spend time with people who are different from them in the hopes that the proximity, hospitality and friendliness will create a personal relationship that can then be used to strengthen the relationship between the organizations the two people represent.

So lets say you're gonna take my word for it, lets say you're gonna accept that you are Christ's Ambassador, sent to your workplace on behalf of the Kingdom of God. If you're anything like my wife, your next question is probably in the shape of “Yeah, ok, but what does that mean? Gimme practicals, man!”

1. Your boss is not your boss

Now, I understand, your boss may be very convinced that they are your boss, and they may be similarly convinced that they have the authority to boss you around, to lord their authority over you as the gentiles do. Been there, believe me. Often we are sent as Ambassadors to places that don't recognize the authority of the King that sent you. That's fine. They can be wrong all by themselves, and it might be a barrier to some things you could do, but it doesn't change the job. You are there to represent Christ and His interests, and be available to talk when the Head of State, or anyone really, wants to speak to The Kingdom.

That might make for some interesting decision matrices when it comes time to decide when to stay, when to go, when to go for that promotion, when to let that transfer go by. You might make decisions that are confusing to some of the people you work with or live with. Bottom line is the King sent you there, the King decides when you get a new posting, and your boss does not. Corollary point, when you ask God for a new job, you're asking your actual boss, the person who can actually do something about it, and the person who would have to sign off on any transfer in the end anyways.

For biblical inspiration here, study the Book of Daniel. Young people, faithfully serving God in an environment where the king of Babylon was very thoroughly convinced that he was the one in charge. Might remind you of some assistant managers you've had. I won't name names. Except for Charlie. I'll name that one.

2. Your Job is not your Job

Now, I understand, your boss might be very convinced that your job is your job, and they might be similarly convinced that people who don't do their jobs will be fired, cast out into the outer darkness (where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth) on their authority. Just like I'm not telling you to challenge the authority of your boss (without the call and cover of the Holy Spirit), I'm not telling you to not do your job. Just understand, if your boss is not your boss, their idea of what your job is could probably use some work. I'll give you an example.

I currently work in the retail space, and my job is, ostensibly, to sell backpacks. There's a lot that goes in to it, but that's the gist. There come occasions where the Lord has made a way for a deeper conversation to happen with a coworker, either just a fun convo on cameras (#FujiFam), or a harder talk about how your early twenties JUST SUCK, especially for young men. In that moment, my job is not to sell backpacks, it's to be the present Christ to that person. If someone wants to buy a backpack, I'd have no idea because I'm just not paying attention. If you're reading, sorry boss! I promise, I'm paying attention the rest of the time!

My God Given job is to be Christ's Ambassador, speaking for Him (faithfully!) to people who want to speak to Him, and hopefully making my workplace work a little bit more like the Kingdom of God, to work better and be more humane. It's definitely part of that call to contribute to the success of the team there, when you're able. Just don't get it backwards. Your boss is not Your Boss, and your job is not your job.

3. Your Goals are not Your Goals

Now, I understand, your goals... Just kidding! I couldn't figure out a way to make the pattern work here on the third point. We all have goals at work. They probably involve making some money to spend on the weekend and not getting in to catfights over office BS with that person, because there's always a person who wants to get in to catfights over office BS. They're like my brother, a messy bit....boi who lives for the drama. Hot Mess Express. You get it. I need a new paragraph.

You have goals. Simple goals. Those goals are often not incompatible with Christ's goals, but they're not the same as Christ's goals. I believe with my whole heart that the Holy Spirit is *currently engaged in the work of making all of creation new.* One of the main privileges we have, as Kingdom people, is the pleasure of participating in that work, the way a toddler participates in making breakfast. We're mostly there to watch, and occasionally we'll be asked to mix the blueberries into the pancake mix. Rowan Williams, in Being Disciples, describes this mindset of being like birdwatchers, waiting in a still, attentive way, until we see at last the flash of the Kingfisher's wing (described in TS Eliot's Four Quartets, Burt Norton IV). We don't know when we'll see the Holy Spirit working in our workplaces, but He is working.

If God is currently engaged in the work of making all things new, that includes a lot of things that we don't talk about as being in the purview of Kingdom work, and it means that *God is both interested in your job and is invested in it working better*. God is invested in such things as;

  1. Reducing the paperwork load on a hospital admin
  2. Using math to help a field scientist cover more ground in a day while taking samples
  3. More efficient battery technology
  4. Pleasant customer service interactions at the register of a coffee shop
  5. Paid Parental Leave
  6. Efficient use of public funds while designing our cities, roads and infrastructure
  7. Taking the time in the morning to appreciate the sunrise and greet the squirrels
  8. Clear, intelligible and balanced accounting books

Et ceteraaaa, et ceteraaaa, et cetera. The work is the worship. The mechanical engineer designing that engine mount that might outlive the car? The efficiency engineer might want to cut the service life down to 100k miles, but the mechanical engineer knows that it's worth it to keep something in service and out of the crusher. Resources are valuable, and an account will have to be given to the One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills about how His wealth was spent. The human resources worker who advocates for buying more healthcare coverage for their other employees? The general manager might want to cut that benefit to return the money to the piggy bank, but the HR person understands that they're accountable to the Father for how well they took care of their fellow people when they had the chance to make a difference, and that “their” piggy bank is really His piggy bank, in the end.

Everyone working to make the world better is working in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, whether they know it or not, and how much more effective could a person be when they can hear the voice of the person they're cooperating with? We are gardeners in someone else's garden, and the people of God have the benefit of knowing who's garden this is and what the owner wants. Oh, also, we know the owner is the guy who invented gardens and gardening in the first place and we can ask Him any question we want, like “WHY DON'T WE HAVE PAID PARENTAL LEAVE?”

Maybe you'll have a different question. You'll probably have a different question. My question for you is what is the Holy Spirit doing in your workplace? How could you help? Where should you be looking, waiting for the flash of the Kingfisher's wing?

I can thoroughly and heartily recommend Rowan Williams' “Being...” series of books, Being Christian, Being Human and Being Disciples. It takes a true master of many disciplines, a master theologian, communicator and pastor, to make this kind of dense and incredible teaching so accessible and so brief. I love theologians, but they, typically, never use a word when a sentence will do. Doubly recommended to anyone looking for their next small group study.

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #11

#Christian #Ministry #WorkplaceMissions #Embassy

Ok, we can get to the fun part! This is Part 3 of a multipart series on making the case for, and opening the way for, the Christian Believer to embrace Free, Open Source Software as one of many ways to live out a Christian spiritual practice. Part One and Part Two are mostly rationale, and today we're going to get started on actually talking about software you might want to use! Exciting!

The rest of this series will probably not talk about Theology or Christian Practice, that's part of the reason why I changed the title. What the rest of this series will do, however, is assume a couple of things.

  1. The user is either a Humanities Major or partially educated Humanities Geek (I'm the second one!) who does not have an otherwise technical background.
  2. The user has a certain, limited amount of tolerance for how much of a pain in the ass it is to learn how to use another piece of software, and requires something that is either already familiar-ish or is easy to pick up.

That's it, mostly. Funnily enough, this opens us up a little for an opportunity to say something true about the open source community;

There are not enough Humanities Majors contributing to Open Source

There are certainly more than none! Large projects even have more than a couple! I'm not saying they're not here, but I am saying that a lot of the FOSS community has a bias towards spending resources on things like technical implementation, elegant/conformant software code, and features, and has a bias against spending resources on “nonpractical” things like visual design, readable documentation, tutorial/onboarding design. The projects that take that kind of thing seriously stand out, head and shoulders, above those that don't. I'm going to do my best to point out when I think the team making software values visual/user interface design, and when I think the team is more interested in features (upon features upon features).

This post is going to be about swaps I think you could make today and be reasonably sure that your life would just be able to keep on truckin. They are, on the friction scale, a 0-1/10. The very first thing I think we can start with is the kind of search engine you use.

“Isn't Search a “BUMMER” product? I thought you weren't going to talk about those?

OK you got me, this is the only one. Search (as I covered in Part 2) is part of the kinds of apps that use a business model that Jaron Lanier calls “BUMMER” or “Behavior of Users Modified, Made into an Empire for Rent”. This is, classically, the business model of Facebook, Instagram, and Google.

I think what I meant is I wasn't going to go into the Arguments that You Should Delete Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (all Ten of them) because that's a big hurdle and honestly, even a man who despises BUMMER as much as I can admit it's a much bigger sacrifice for most people than using a different search engine. The reasons why you might want to use a different search engine, though, might be compelling.

Search, and the ads placed on it, is the main product propping up Google right now. They make money by letting people pay money to show you different links, instead of the most relevant ones you might actually want to see. It makes more money on those ads by tracking you literally everywhere, on the websites you visit, with your phone location data (if you use an android phone), with the data from your grocery store trip, everything. Easiest way to win that game is to just take your ball and go home. There's a lot of people making search engines that are not tracking you all the way to the soccer game and back, and these are the two I can most easily recommend.


DuckDuckGo has been around a long time, and I've been using them for a pretty long time too. They use their own webcrawlers (software robots doing the mining work of finding websites that might fit a particular search result) and use their own seach algorithms to create results. Those algorithms don't take in to consideration the previous search history of the user, and they don't gather that information anyways. It certainly delivers different results than Google does for the same queries, at least the couple times I compared results.

DuckDuckGo has grown in the past couple years, and it offers a little bit more than search these days. The major thing is an extension you can use for Firefox that disables any kind of cookie tracker you might run in to out there, along with a couple other helpful things. I don't really recommend it to you at this stage without the caveat that you should be aware that blocking trackers, cookies, and adware can cause some sites to behave strangely, and a small number of sites to break down completely. There's a tradeoff with all this stuff.


A lot of people are worried about search quality, and they probably started using Google for it's near magical ability to take a query like “That song with the stoner guy with the nasally voice that goes nah nah na NANA NAAA” and return the result “That's obviously 'Self Esteem' by The Offspring, give me a hard one next time” with the assumption that nobody can do the kind of thing Google does. Because everyone, technically, uses an individualized version of Google, it's tough to make accurate statements about “everyone's” search results. That said, because of the ubiquitous nature of search engine optimization, people have been remarking on the steady decline in perceived quality of Google's search results, which might be one way of saying that all search results are starting to become more equal in quality. That's a qualitative assessment that I can't make for you, I can just say that for me, using DDG used to feel like a sacrifice I made for the greater good, and these days I can't tell the difference between the quality of search results. Your milage may vary.

That said, if you still want to use Google search results for “reasons”, then you could use Startpage instead. Startpage gets you a lot of the privacy that you'd want by not using Google, but they still buy their search results from Google. The main difference is that you're not shown Google ads, and Google doesn't know it's you doing the searching. They just know that Startpage is doing the searching, you and all their other users.

But Sam, I just did some checking and neither of these companies are open source...

You've got me there. There really isn't any free and open source operators in the search business. It happens sometimes, another example would be handwriting recognition in note-taking apps, the only people who do it make proprietary software and the only people who do it well, right now, are giant companies like Microsoft (in OneNote) and Apple (in their Notes app in iPadOS). I'll admit that I'm not a FOSS Fundamentalist, like Richard Stallman. Stallman doesn't use any software that isn't FOSS because he's a bit impossible and doesn't have professional or social obligations that might require him to calm down a little bit. I use Open Source software, when I can, because it feels more human and humane to me. I see the people involved with the process more clearly and I see the fingerprints of their decisions all over the stuff they make. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole with me, you'll find that the main way people are inducted into this... “Fandom” doesn't sound right, “community” we'll say, is by having a problem, asking the internet a question, and having a person help you out. It's in chat rooms and collaborative help tools, and you may not know who “BrianLuvsLinux” is, but you'll know that his volunteerism is the reason you know that keyboard shortcut, and you'll never be able to say you did it all by yourself. And that kind of rhymes with the way the Church works, at least, the way it should work.


There are several options in the office suite world, but in my opinion, the rookie should only really consider two. The difference is going to be if you need access to a large number of features, or if you really want something functional that looks and feels as much like Microsoft Office as possible. There's one thing you need to know, though, and it's the one thing that's most likely (these days) to cause issues with interoperability between your free software suite and the proprietary stuff your coworkers/volunteers/mom uses. That thing, interestingly enough, is fonts.


Fonts, or typefaces (some graphic design person will correct me in the comments, but I can never keep them straight) are usually the culprit when your document looks funny when someone else opens it. We're going to roll RIGHT over the majority of these issues and say that if your document is intended for internal use in an office setting, my recommendation is to just use Arial or Calibri for everything (unless your whole office is all Mac users, then use SF Pro, which you can download from Apple). This should resolve the majority of your funky chicken issues with document formatting being broken on other machines. These are both proprietary fonts, kind of. Their license, the legal terms under which they can be used, is proprietary. They are, generally, freely available for users of any system. They'll come preinstalled on Windows machines, of course, and it's likely any office software you install on your windows box will just pull them right in to the selection box. If you run a Mac, then you should go here and follow the instructions. If you run a Linux box, why are you here? Just kidding, if you run a Linux box then the MS fonts should be in an unfree software section of your repositories. I'm sure a quick DuckDuckGo search should take you to a place to just download the .tty files, also.


OnlyOffice is my recommendation if you just need to jump in and write a quick word document or slideshow and don't need every feature in the book. The software is almost indistinguishable, to me, from MS Office, so users should feel right at home. support for proprietary formats like .docx and .xlsx is strong. The only real downside here is that OnlyOffice only includes the big three software programs, Documents, Spreadsheets, and Slideshows. If you need a database manager, math formula builder, or drawing/flowchart builder, you'll need to use LibreOffice.


So, with every name, there's a story. You've heard me talk about Free and Open Source Software before. A couple of times. There used to be a software suite that was called Open Office. Great software. Used it, loved it. It was bought a couple times, Oracle took it over, ignored it, and a bunch of people took the source code and forked it. A “fork” is a creature unique to the open souce world, its what happens when someone decides to take the software source, which is open to the public, copy it, (presumably) make some changes and then re-release the software under a different name. This is done for a lot of reasons, but for the purposes of this story you can just know that a new team took over active development of Open Office, with permission from nobody, and continue to develop it today as LibreOffice, while the original Open Office was allowed to die. Kind of. Oracle eventually allowed Apache to have the project, but that's neither here nor there.

LibreOffice is the product of a team that wants to actually replace all the functionality present in proprietary products. All the functionality. And add to it. Consequently, power users will have their best luck finding all their necessary features in LibreOffice, and maybe even some they wish they had with Microsoft. The only real exception here is that the most elite of all Excel blackbelts will probably have to stick with Excel. Reportedly, some people find there is still useful and necessary advanced features that have not been replicated, yet. That's probably not you, though. You're a Pastor, not an accountant. Unless you've got one of those big ol churches with a 15 Pastor staff and a Pastor for Everything and you're the Accounting, Bookkeeping and Guest Relations Pastor. In that case, I see you and your work is valid and important.

Downsides look back to the thing I mentioned earlier, the more a project focuses on features, the less resources they tend to invest in things like graphic design, user interface design etc. The one saving grace here, though, is that the UI is generally VERY configurable. So you can generally make it look exactly how you want.

In Conclusion

We're going to be working our way just a little bit further down the rabbit hole here, with the next post. I won't say where I think I'm going to go, next, but I think we'll probably return to the subject of Embassy, proper, before returning for Part 4 of this series. I'll see you then!

Also, I've got my email up on the banner! If you want to talk to me about what I'm writing here, drop me a line!

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #10.

#Technology #Tech #FOSS #FLOSS #OpenSource #ChristianMinistry #Theology #Humanity #Gospel #OnlyOffice #LibreOffice #DuckDuckGo #StartPage

You can find The First Part of this series here.

Ok, so last post I could feel myself slipping a little bit into an argument that I desperately want to make but has already been made at length by several people, and it's an argument that you should delete your social media accounts right now. I think I will probably make that argument in the future, but any treatment I would make of it would be in direct conversation with the man who wrote THE required reading on the subject, Jaron Lanier and his book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Jaron was there in Silicon Valley at the start, was a pioneer in the field of internet technology and virtual reality, and is probably a polymath renaissance genius man. He is the single most interesting/strange person I've ever interacted with, and you should go read his book right now. It's a surprisingly sympathetic treatment of the issue from a man almost allergic to angry diatribe, and it's probably the most important 120 page book you'll read all year.

Jaron uses an acronym to describe the problem with social media as executed right now, called BUMMER, “Behavior of Users Modified, Made into an Empire for Rent”, and I bring it up simply to carve out that subject as something I'm not talking about right now. BUMMER is a company making a huge behavior modification machine, then allowing other people (sometimes any old person) to use that machine in exchange for money. Facebook selling ads on a service they deliberately made as addictive as possible is BUMMER, Apple making it really easy to use an iPhone with your Mac (and a pain in the tuckus to use an Android phone with your Mac) is not BUMMER. They're definitely trying to modify your behavior, but you can be reasonably sure that the people modifying your behavior are Apple Inc, and it's easy to understand why they might want to. It's a pain, it's annoying, it's not a threat to global society the way BUMMER is. If you don't believe me that BUMMER is a threat to global society, read the man's book.

So what are we talking about?

We're talking about the digital tools that you use in your day to day life. Talking to the ministers who are paid by a church for their work (what a lot of people will call “full time vocational ministers”), I'm talking about the computer you write your sermons on and research your sunday school lessons on. I'm talking about the email service you use to be available to others and send out church bulletins. I'm talking about the office software you use to keep everyone on the same page, the cloud storage you use to back up your documents, the video editing software you use to make the video bumpers that are all the rage these days.

So what's at stake? What's so bad about these people?

I don't know if “these people”, the people at these technology companies, are bad people. You and I are Christian Believers, presumably, we know that “sin is a croucher” waiting to devour all people, so certainly uncareful or uncaring people create a large opportunity for evil outcomes. I don't know that the stakes include things like world domination, global poverty, or the capacity to change the world. What I do know is that tech companies behave in monopolistic ways, and their business model requires an attempt to enslave you to their product. We've become comfortable with that kind of enslavement, and maybe the stakes are relatively low, involving sums of money that don't really break your bank and don't make a huge difference to your church's budget.

These are rationalizations and justifications for ignoring a kind of enslavement that we feel is necessary for life in this modern world and ultimately has little impact on our life. It's like an enslavement to caffeine. It costs money, but it's ultimately benign.

And look, another thing I'm not going to do is spend this time telling you that this kind of entanglement is the most pressing problem in your life right now. I'm not telling you to delete your Windows Installation right now, even if you should delete your social media accounts right now (Last time, I promise!). I just want to open the realm of possibility for you and be the quiet but firm voice of empowerment that says “That annoying thing they do, they do on purpose, and no, you're not stuck with it. You may have to learn something new, but you can absolutely learn this new thing. I promise.”


Here's some rapid fire case studies to help you maybe see what I'm talking about.

  1. Your Mac comes with “Messages” preinstalled, but the only messages provider it supports out of the box is iMessage. It can integrate SMS text messages, but only if you own an iPhone. Many many many other pieces of free and proprietary software will integrate literally hundreds of different text message providers into one application, and Apple has some of the best software engineers in the world. They absolutely could integrate SMS, iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, Whatsapp etc etc all in to a piece of software on your computer. They chose not to, because they don't want you to use other messaging providers. They want you, and crucially all the people you talk to to use iMessage. Wonder why?
  2. Interoperability is a common thing tech companies don't do, because they want to keep you from using other people's products. Want to import Photoshop assets into your Final Cut Pro project? Have fun importing it manually. Creative Cloud would be happy to do it automatically for you, if you just switched to Premier.... Look for this, and you'll see it everywhere.
  3. Windows updates, and forced software updates in general, are a common pain point for Everyone and Their Grandmas. Your computer ran great when you bought it, and it ran a version of windows that you knew how to use and enjoyed using, and then they updated it! After bugging you with notifications to let them update it! And then it ran worse, and also you don't know how to use it anymore! Thank you, I hate it. These invariably include important security updates, for sure, but they could have unbundled security updates from user interface updates. They just chose not to. Why would they do that?
  4. My least favorite is Induced User Inadequacy. Why do you think you feel like the world of open source software, of linux operating systems and self hosted cloud services is just too complicated for you? Computers are, in reality, complicated machines with many moving parts. Tech companies work very hard to obscure that fact from you, keep you from ever having to learn how to work on it? Why would they do that? They might do it because there's a lot of money in selling a computer that requires no training to use, but they definitely also do it because an untrained user is much easier to market to. It's disempowerment, not empowerment. “You couldn't possibly use something else. And why would you want to? Staying is easy, leaving is hard.”

I don't go in for that kind of thing. I think it's kind of evil, the way a lot of companies act in a market economy is a normalized, banal kind of evil. The “free” in Free and Open Source is usually interpreted as meaning “Free as in Beer”, when the most important thing that it means is “Free as in Speech”. It's about freedom. For people who's lives are given in service to the Breaker of Chains, the One Who, With a Mighty Right Hand, Brought the Isrealites Out of Egypt and brought our people out of bondage to Sin, we should have a special and close relationship to freedom. The rub is that Software Freedom, like most kinds of freedom, will require something of an investment of time and attention from the user. I know you can do it. Question is, if you believe you can?

Part Three will begin the practicalities, starting with simple and easy FOSS substitutions you can make, and why you might make them. Your homework is to pay attention to the computers in your life and see if you can identify something you'd like to change that you're not allowed to change. Ask why that is.

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #9.

#Technology #Tech #FOSS #FLOSS #OpenSource #ChristianMinistry #Theology #Humanity #Gospel

So I've used Free and Open Source Software for a long time, and I have friends in the ministry who don't and don't think about why they might. I think the main barrier there is the feeling that they must be “techy” or “a programmer” to successfully run a Linux operating system on their computer, or to use Kdenlive or Digikam in their creative work. I think another barrier might be one of ignorance, they never knew that maybe they should think about it. I'm here to talk about it, specifically to my friends who care about the work of Christ in this world, my friends who care about human care and flourishing in this world, and my friends who don't. If I have any friends who don't.

This is another multipart series because I've been trying to write more and shorter posts. I'm also going to start by arguing from a negative. Today we're going to start talking about

Why You Might Not Want To Use Proprietary Software

(I don't know how title case works. I was many different majors in college, none of them were Composition)

I'll do my best to onboard you into the jargon required as simply as possible. We need to start by defining some terms.

Proprietary Software – this is almost all the software you use day to day. The people who develop this software work in private, publish a usable digital object to you, but do not and will not tell you how they made it. This is usually done to preserve competitive advantage, and to make users pay for access to that software. It could also be done to prevent users from modifying software, for example preventing you (or some enterprising individual) from removing copy protection from a music CD you bought.

Free, Open Source Software – often shortened to FOSS, Open Source Software is software that is developed in public, by self organizing teams of people or by individuals, and published in both a usable form (like proprietary software) and in the form of source code, or the blueprints or plans that are used to build that usable digital object, the program that you download on to your computer and click on in the menu to do something. Imagine if you bought a car, and it came not only with the service manual (how to fix it), but also the engineering drawings, allowing you to build or modify it to your liking. A person with a machine shop could make their own replacement parts, a person with a sewing machine could make custom seat covers that fit just as closely as the originals.

There's often a big question from people, why would someone give away a useful digital object for free. There are as many different reasons as there are Open Source Contributors, but the reasons often include Intrinsic Motivation, like the joy of building or creating useful software, Activist Mentality, like the belief that software should be free (for many various reasons) and Practical Reasons, like the observed fact that open source software is more secure, because it has many many more people observing the source code, looking for errors. People also make careers in open source, whether by individual contributions (patron-funded) or by selling service and support (Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Canonical, the publishers of Ubuntu, are very large companies that “give away” the software, but charge for service contracts).

OK but why wouldn't I use proprietary software?

There's lots of practical reasons that are somewhat technical and can feel esoteric if you only use your computer like you use your car, by walking up to it and pressing the “on” button. I won't go in to those, other than to say that open source software is just as if not more secure, easy to use and powerful than proprietary software. Increasingly, these days, the visual design is also just as good, if not better. Just look at Element or Firefox.

Proprietary software, especially the kind that runs your computer and phone, is made by very very large companies that have goals counter to the Gospel and counter to Human Flourishing.

That's my big Why. Whether it's a proprietary operating system, like MacOS or Windows, a proprietary software utility like DropBox, iCloud, or Evernote, a proprietary web platform like Amazon (not linking them), a proprietary mobile platform like iOS or Android (With Google Web Services), a proprietary creative suite like Adobe Creative Cloud, or a proprietary social media service like Facebook (nope), Instagram (noper), Twitter (Elon Nope) or TikTok (不), the goals of these companies are counter to your goals as a minister or activist. When you participate in the exchange of attention, the cycle of using these platforms and letting them use you, you are both actively sustaining them with the only thing you have that they need (your attention) and you are opening your life, thoughts, creativity and self to being shaped by these services to be better fitted to them.

You may feel that a boycott by one person is pointless and a waste of time, that you can't hurt them by you alone refusing to use them. Even if that is true (and I don't concede that it is), removing yourself from proximity and the influence of these organizations is an undeniable good. Their goals run counter to the Gospel and to Human Flourishing. When they shape you, they will not shape you into someone more capable and able to contribute to the Gospel and to Human Flourishing, and I contend there is no way to use them without engaging in a mutual use cycle. Not the way they're designed.

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #8.

#Technology #Tech #FOSS #FLOSS #OpenSource #ChristianMinistry #Theology #Humanity #Gospel

So I have a friend, his name is Taylor. The more accurate thing to call Friend Taylor is “Taylor, Friend and Unpaid Creative Consultant to Embassy, The Blog (and Hopefully, Someday, 'Embassy, the Movie')”. He's the blog fan in my life and is much much more blog-literate than I am. He's the reason this blog exists, which is the reason why all the negative email feedback goes to him and not to me.

As part of his “work” as Official Unofficial Unpaid Creative Consultant, Taylor shared recently that he wanted “a million words on disappointment”. After reading what I've written and talking to me in person about what I want to say and who I want to say it to, he put his finger on this emotional state as being a constant companion on the road of a Workplace Missionary, and I agree with him that a million words, thereabouts, is probably appropriate. Luckily for me, and you, I have not yet learned how to write a million words all at once, so we're going to start that thousand mile journey with a couple steps today.

This is the first in a series of stories on disappointment. Some will end in happy endings, some will end in open ended ways, and some will end and remain in grief. I hope, eventually, to feature other people here, but for a bit here you're gonna get stories from my life. I was brought up by my father to swing for the fences, and if you're going to live your life that way, you're gonna catch a lot of air and more strikeouts than you were probably prepared for before you actually hit that baseball over the fence. Consequently, I've got plenty of stories of diappointment.

My Internship with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries

This is a story with a happy ending. I guess. It feels happy to me, looking back on it.

The second time I dropped out of college, I had been attending and serving with a campus ministry group called Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. We were among the smaller groups at all the campuses I ended up serving at, but if you have ever attended a state school in the US you might have heard of similar groups like Campus Crusade for Christ (which has gone by CRU for a while now, since having “crusade” in the name was not helpful with college kids), The Navigators, Christian Challenge or Young Life. All of these groups have their own personality, both nationally and regionally. Chi Alpha, being the Campus Ministry arm of the Assemblies of God, US Missions, usually have groups that have more international students, more students who speak a language other than English at home, and then a fair number of students who's home church is either AG or Pentecostal in character. I'm in the last category.

My twenties were largely characterized by this desire to be able to formulate and elucidate a plan for my life. Late in my twenties, I eventually adopted a nihilistic approach to “plans for a person's life”, that they're largely garbage and pointless and a waste of time, and that hard edged perspective came from crashing and burning a lot in my late teens and early twenties. Looking back, trying to remember, I think I thought I might be, in roughly chronological order;

  1. A construction worker
  2. A Teacher (of any subject)(even though I hated my time in school)
  3. A Spanish Language Interpreter (even though I knew almost no Spanish)
  4. A Software Engineer
  5. A Campus Missionary
  6. A Computer Hardware Engineer
  7. A Youtuber
  8. A Podcaster (audio is easier)
  9. Back to a Computer Hardware Engineer
  10. A Mathemetician
  11. etc etc etc

You get the idea. I had settled in to a rhythm, by the time this story takes place, of “I enjoy the though of doing X as a career”, “The Novelty of X is wearing off”, “preparing to do X is extremely hard and I have no idea whether I'll want to do X after this is done”, “I'm not an Xer, Xers don't have this kind of trouble getting started, I must have missed my calling, I need to go back to the drawing board”, to, at the last, “I enjoy the thought of doing Y as a career”. Rinse and repeat.

Keep that in mind.

So, that summer, my campus missionary had resigned to go back to school and become a therapist, and the state director, a guy named Alex, had made the decision to merge the staff and student leadership of my group and his group, which met in the college town 45 minutes East of us. This is for a lot of actually good reasons and a couple of the challenges inherent in this arrangement didn't rear their heads until far enough down the line that morale was pretty darn high for quite a while during this whole arrangement, but this story isn't really about that.

I had recently given up on college for the second (but not the last) time, with no direction and, critically, no plan to give to the adults in my life who helpfully/unhelpfully ask “so what are you doing now?”. The anxiety of only having a reply in the shape of “Well, I just dropped out of college and I'm working part time at a big box hardware store and I'm just gonna do that forever” was unhealthy in it's scale, and that anxiety had me looking for a place to land after I had already jumped off the last branch. I was like a juvenile flying squirrel, leaping into the air before even deciding where it was I might want to land. And in to this mental space, an opportunity arrived.

I had known Alex from seeing him at youth events around the state for a long time, and we had hit it off again when he came through town. During those conversations, I came to a couple of conclusions;

  1. I loved the kids and staff in my campus ministry, and I loved meeting new ones.
  2. I hated working my current job, which was a dead end and a pain in the ass in any case.
  3. The work of the ministry seemed to be the most important kind of work you could do.
  4. The more I went with Alex around on the job, it seemed like his job was mostly mentoring young people, teaching the Way of Christ, building a community of faith out of young people and sending them out to change the world.
  5. I think I could do that for the rest of my life.

So we made arrangements for me to come on as an intern for that school year. In fact, one of three interns that year, but I didn't know that until later. Honestly the whole staff got double or triple it's size almost overnight, in a story that's worth it's own blog post. I went to train on how to raise my own financial support so that I could focus on the internship, and eventually the school year started.

It's maybe worth pausing here to make clear something that I took for granted, but I've since learned is a peculiarity of how our fellowship equipped missionaries to enter the field, financially. Let's say you feel the call to enter the mission field, any mission field, and you go to AG World Missions and say so. They look you over, consult the Holy Spirit in prayer and fasting and decide that yes, they agree that the Lord has called you to go to the Moon as a Lunar Missionary. They commission you, consult their tables and formulas to see about how much they think you're gonna need to feed your family and pay for pizza parties and coffee dates and all that, then they take that big number and give it to you as your budget.

Now, in some Christian traditions, the sending body would put the missionary, effectively, on salary and they pack their bags and go and get started. In the Assemblies of God (and other fellowships), the sending body is technically the Assemblies of God Churches in your District, so before you can go get started, you need to go to anyone who will talk to you and ask them to send money every month to support your work. You can't go in the field until you raise your budget, a process that can take a year for people who either have enough saved up to go full bore in to it or have enough interpersonal connections to get a meaningful head start and get some cash rolling to then snowball into expenses like gas and lunch. It can take much, much longer. I know missionaries who worked a decade long career in the field and never made a full budget.

This is an “eat what you kill” model, and there are a lot of good reasons, bad reasons, and stupid reasons for it. My feelings on this model are complicated (ie not decided and not overwhelmingly for or against) and may be worth another post if people care what a missionary wash-out thinks about the matter, but the relevant upside here is that I had a (quite small) missionary budget designed to support a young man on his own, living in subsidized (though not free) housing and spending his time talking to students and supporting the various weekly and quarterly events we did. The internship was a full time internship, really, and there was more than enough to keep me busy all day. It would have been very difficult to work a job and do everything I had signed up for.

I didn't raise a single dollar in support. Not for lack of trying, either. I had churches I knew, families who loved me, loved Chi Alpha, and already supported other missionaries who told me they couldn't support me and couldn't give me a real reason other than they couldn't (wouldn't?) support more missionaries with their budget the way it was. I was going to have to work a part time job just to make ends meet while trying to do my full time ministry internship.

(I learned later that this was a known fact among established missionaries, pastors and observers in my district. The sense was there just wasn't any more support available in the district for missionaries, with even some established families seeing their support dry up and having to leave the missions field. For what it's worth, all of the missionaries I served with in Chi Alpha are now local church pastors, either coming on to an existing church or planting, or have left vocational ministry. I don't know how much financial support pressure contributed to these decisions. It can't be “not at all”.)

The-in-the-middle part of this story seems, to me, in hindsight, the boring part. We made friends, we got to work, the wind fell out of my sails but I kept trying, mostly because my leadership loved me enough to remind me of my commitments and keep me from just dipping out because things got hard, and I eventually had to let go of the dream I had of being a vocational minister because the whole hustle had completely burnt me out. I decided in my heart that I wasn't going to do the next internship in line (which would have sent me to a big established Chi Alpha group in, I think, North Dakota, to prepare to run my own campus ministry) towards the end of the Fall, met and began talking to the woman who would become my wife about a month after that, and told Alex about a month later than I should have, because I was so anxious of disappointing him. He, of course, was supportive.

I didn't have to burn any bridges to do it, but I was out on my own again, without any direction. Again. And I would do this dance a bit more before giving up on it, but I would eventually. This post is already about twice as long as I thought it should have been, but I'll conclude really quick with the reason I told this story at all.

I've never really wanted to do something different with my life than to serve the Church, because that's where Christ was, and He was the thing that never changed in my life. I spent a lot of time in the campus ministry space, I know dozens and dozens of peers who felt the same way, who were completely willing to live on less and give up a retirement and any wage growth at all if they could just find a church that could pay them just enough and let them play worship for a living every Sunday, let them teach children how much Jesus loves them, let them teach adults how much Jesus loves them. In my experience, less than a fifth ever got to feed their family by preaching the word.

So maybe you're in that 4/5ths of my peers who had some kind of similar experience to mine, and you felt that dream fall out of your hands and land on the floor, crash into a million pieces.

I see you, and you're not alone.

Also, the God you serve is the God that entered into death, was broken into a million pieces, and became the Resurrected God shortly after He was made The Crucified Lord. So remember the day of your baptism, remember the day that you died and accepted Christ's invitation into His resurrection life, and remember that your brother, King, and God has made a habit, plan and even talent of bringing the dead back to life.

The song that meant the most to me during that time of my life is a song by a band called Colony House, called “Moving Forward”. You should listen to it. It still makes me emotional today, now, writing this. Alone, in the Starbucks. It's ok, it's 2023, a man can cry in public if he wants to.

This post is part of #100DaysToOffload, a challenge to blog a hundred days in a year hosted by Kev Quirk. This is post #7.

#ChristianMinistry #Embassy #ChiAlpha #Disappointment #Resurrection