Chinese Night at the Picadilly Cafeteria?

A while back I saw a sign at a Picadilly Cafeteria proclaiming that Thursday night was Chinese night. My mind started to spin. Sweet and Sour Salisbury Steak? General Tso's Liver and Onions? Sesame Fried Chicken? What other culture clashes might be possible?

Imitation or the Real Thing?

In talking around the dinner table the other night friends were describing a church service they attended, where the drum solo was a takeoff on some well-known pop band and the drummer and lighting were in the style of another. Something seemed out of kilter for me. The absolute first thing we learn in the Bible is 'In the beginning, God created....' God is a creative God. An ancient principle says that Satan cannot create, only imitate. James Blish used this effectively in the novel A Case of Conscience.

So what is the role of imitation in Christianity? Paul says in I Cor. 4:16 for us to imitate him, and in Ephesians 5:1 for us to imitate God. There's the Christian classic devotional The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. (proud of myself for actually finding the acute-a in this thing!) On a more contemporary note, the all-pervasive WWJD: "What Would Jesus Do?" based on imitating Him. The major problem with that is: I can't. As a friend pointed out, if you read the Gospels with a fresh eye, as if you don't know how the story's going to come out, you have absolutely no concept what Jesus is going to do. Even if I did, he's healing or working miracles. So I'm afraid imitating Him is rather unrealistic. So it looks like the WWJD and imitating Him just boil down to 'be-good Christianity." This is where we obey the golden rule and treat everyone nice and call it Christianity. I'm not sure this is the Real Thing.

Beyond the role of imitating Christ or the Apostle Paul, or some other saintly believer, what's the role of imitating other churches? I remember one church whose planning seemed to be: "See what church X is doing, and let's do it, too!" Today, small local churches seem to look to the megachurches and imitate what they're doing. Is God's creativity so limited that it only is given to the few, with the rest left to copy them?

Then what about churches or believers imitating the world, as the church stage show in the first paragraph? If God is the author of all creativity, and the world copies His creation, and the church copies the world, haven't we just made a copy-of-a-copy and starting to blur the original image?

The Forbidden Sandwich Needs A Better Tagline

Since before the fall, men and women have yearned for things they cannot have. In the garden, Eve wanted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. In contemporary Christendom, we hunger for a Chick-Fil-A sandwich on Sunday: the Forbidden Sandwich. All Chick-Fil-As are closed every Sunday, to honor the Sabbath. My idea is to open a Chick-Fil-A location and staff it entirely with Jews and Seventh-Day Adventists. That way, we could be closed on Saturday for the Sabbath, and open on Sunday. We'd clean up on the Baptist and Methodist traffic, not to mention NFL tailgate parties. Superbowl Sunday? We'd make enough to carry us through the rest of the year.

There's something that bothers me about the otherwise wonderful experience of eating at Chick-Fil-A. It's that quote from Turett Cathy on the back wall: "Food is essential to life. Therefore, make it good." I guess it just reminds me of the moivie Animal House where the statue of the college's founder, Emil Faber, bears his most famous quote on its pedistal: "Knowledge is Good". Mr. Cathy's quote is, I'm afraid, about as banal, but without the humor. '..make it good' what kind of good? Good for you? Tastes good? Good for the environment? A good value? I think Mr. Cathy needs a better ghostwriter to come up with a snappier line that could go on the back wall. How about "Chicken sandwiches aren't really essential to life, therefore we can fry 'em up and make them taste real good without killing you"? Probably too honest. How about "In your eye, Colonel Sanders"? Too confrontational. Maybe "You kids better not open these things on Sundays after I'm dead and gone!" Probably the most remembered, but not a public saying.  Help me out here, what would be a better Truett Cathy quote?

Next-Gen CRM

Ok, this is a real geeky post.

In the evolution of computer operating systems, there has been a trend toward smaller pieces working together, rather than larger pieces. The old operating systems like OS/360 were monolithic: everything was in one piece. UNIX decoupled utilities and the user interface from the OS. Linux has a plug-in structure that allows kernel modules to be added as needed. More radical microkernel architectures have the OS only doing inter-process communication and some scheduling. Everything else is done by separate processes.

I'm starting to see the same sort of progress in other software systems. The Apache web server is very similar to a microkernel operating system. Everything (including handling http requests) is done by plug-ins. The Eclipse IDE is very much based on a plug-in system.

My idea is for a microkernel type Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Older systems like ACT or Goldmine were pretty much monolithic: they weren't easy to extend. The current generation of CRM systems like Salesforce or SugarCRM have a plug-in architecture to extend the base system with new functionality as needed. The problem is that the base functionality can't be replaced. When I use a modern CRM system it's fairly painful. They have email clients built in, but they're nowhere as nice as GMail. They have mailing list managers, but nowhere as nice as MailChimp. They have time tracking, but nowhere as comprehensive (note I didn't say 'nice') as Quickbooks. What we need is a CRM system that has no inherent functionality: all the functionality is provided via plugins. That way I could plug GMail, MailChimp, Quickbooks, Basecamp, whatever I like into the microkernel of the CRM system and come away with best-of-breed everything. The limiting factors are, of course, the APIs of the constitutent parts (Quickbooks is notably lacking here). Perhaps the base system would be in the cloud, talking to a Firefox chrome application on the desktop? I don't know. But I do know that almost all the pieces are there to make this happen. Should it be open-source? Probably. Would this attract VC money? Perhaps. Tell me what you think.

The Bowdlerized Bible

There was an English editor named Thomas Bowdler who, in the early 1800s, published the Family Shakespeare. This was a work that removed all the passages in Shakespeare that could possible give offense. "Out, out damn spot" became "Out crimson spot", etc. The overall sense was maintained, but the poetry and grittiness of Shakespeare removed. The man has become a verb, to bowdlerize is to "expurgate (a written work) by removing or modifying passages considered vulgar or objectionable." (thanks dictionary.com)

We as Christians do the same thing. I remember reading bedtime Bible stories to my sons when they were young. The stories were indeed Bowdlerized. Perhaps the supreme example of this was the old VeggieTales esisode of King George and the Ducky. Let's face it, this version of David and Bathsheeba is so cleaned up that almost nothing of the original remains. This always sorta bothered me about VeggieTales. Overall, I found them to be very creative and well-executed. But I somehow always thought that they were on surer ground when they were doing original stories, rather than bowdlerizing Bible stories.

There's a good book Phil Vischer wrote about the rise and fall of Big Ideas productions: Me, Myself and Bob. It was interesting enough. Phil didn't deal directly with many criticisms of their work, like Bowdlerizing.

I always thought that a good way to counter the criticism of playing fast and loose with the Biblical text would be to take a text ultra literally. Computer animation or CGI would be a perfect medium to present some of the stranger prophetic passages. A good warm-up could be the vally of dry bones from Ezekiel 37. The one I'd really like to see would be the rebuilt temple and kingdom from Ezekiel 40 and following. Imagine the voice-over simply reading the passage and the corresponding visual building up everything that's described. It could all be white rectangular solids, then when the narrator says that they were made of wood or had carvings on them like palm trees, the texture map gets applied to the white solids. Maybe someday somebody will take a run at it.

Fun Video, Have a Happy 4th!

Have fun with a great musical take-off. This is for those in a narrow age-range: old enough to remember West Side Story and young enough to get the internet jokes.

Unusual Website

Interesting concept for a website: just put up a YouTube channel. See the website of the ad agency Boone Oakley. It's a very creative YouTube video. Unusual concept, especially for an ad agency.

Bandwidth of FedEx

I've written before about the bandwidth of a minivan full of CD-ROMs, or a SUV full of DVDs. Now Pingdom is reporting that Google knows the same thing. They have an article about how FedEx is faster than the Internet. Enjoy.

Christian Symbolism in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings

A while back a friend of ours said that their pastor told the congregation that "He didn't see anything Christian in Lord of the Rings" and didn't encourage anyone to see it. As the Monty Python lads would say "Yes, well, that's the sort of blinkered, philistine pig-ignorance I've come to expect.." I'll try to spell it out for you slowly and maybe you'll get it.

There is no one figure of Christ in Lord of the Rings (LOTR) as there is in Lewis' Narnia tales. In LOTR there are, in fact, three Christ figures. These figures represent three of the offices of the Christ: prophet, priest and king.

The prophet figure is Gandalf. He roams among men, encouraging, exhorting and counceling them. The apex of his story line is where he battles a major force of darkness and returns from the dead as the untimate authority of his order.

The priest figure is Frodo. The priest has to make sacrifice to expurge sin and evil. It's Frodo's task to bear the ring of evil up the mountain of darkness to its destruction. He stumbles along the way and has to be helped out. He accomplishes his task at great personal cost: he is wounded and his wounds will never heal.

The king is of course Aragorn. He has to win his kingdom through battle in order to secure his bride. But he and his bride are separated: one is mortal, the other immortal. The immortal must relinquish immortality and be doomed to death in order for the wedding to take place. Aragorn must take up his rightful place as king, the office he was born to hold. This was prophecied from days of old. But he's not just a warrior because it's said "the hands of the king are hands of a healer."

Ok people, does ANY of this sound familiar?!?!

The No. 1 Mayberry Detective Agency

A few years ago I picked up one of Alexander McCall Smith's books in the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series as I was passing through the airport. These are gentle, very human stories of Precious Ramotswe as she runs her detective agency in Botswana. They feature almost no murder or mayhem. The mysteries aren't convoluted. HBO and the BBC have recently produced a movie and series about them. One day this past week I realized where I'd seen all these characters before: in Mayberry.

Ma Ramotswe is the central figure, solving crimes with common sense and a keen understanding of human nature. She's very much like sheriff Andrew Jackson Taylor in Mayberry in the old Andy Griffith show. Her secretary and assistant detective is a skinny, wired helper with an inflated sense of self-importance: Grace Makutsi. She sometimes even acts like Barney. Ma Ramotswe's love interest is the stable, kind Mr. JLB Matekoni, the analog of Helen Crump. Next door to the agency's office is a hairdresser, the counterpart to Floyd the barber. Mr. JLB Matekoni runs a garage and employs two worthless apprentices. Let's see, in Mayberry were there idiots who worked on cars? Yes, the apprentices fill the roles of Goober and Gomer. Ma Ramotswe occasionally has to go out into the bush, just as sheriff Taylor has to go into the backwoods.  I'm expecting to see Otis and Howard Sprague show up at any time.

Did Mr. Smith lift the forumla from Andy Griffith? I don't think so, but he stumbled onto a timeless forumla that still works well.

Happy Cinco de Mayo

Today's the day we commemorate the Mexican Nationals sinking of the French colonial cargo vessel Puebla carrying mayonnaise to the old world. Happy Cinco de Mayo.

Excellent Article about Evangelical Collapse

The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent article on the Coming Collapse of Evanglical Christianity. I don't think the end-game is quite what he says. I think he's missed the home church movement which will have an impact. We'll see.

Terrific Design

I recently came across this example of terrific design. Why can't we do the same thing in this digital age?