Sunday, January 30, 2005

Virginia sunrise

Virginia sunrise

Originally uploaded by aharbick.

This isn't a very good photo (unless you consider the blurriness art ;) but it is pretty representative of the sunrises where we live in Virginia. It makes getting up early a LOT more enjoyable.


bluebirds on a fence

Originally uploaded by aharbick.

This weekend there was a minor winter storm. Wintry mix, nothing major that messed anything up. During the storm I was outside brewing beer and I saw the most delightful thing. 10 bluebirds camping out in my yard! I think I must be an ornithologist at heart because it just made me happy to see. How beautiful! (be sure to see the original)

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The evolving church?

There is a branch of biology called sociobiology which seeks to explain culturual behavior using an evolutionary model. It was first coined by E.O. Wilson a famous biologist (or so I hear... I've only read Concilience ).

For whatever reason, I remembered sociobiology when thinking about the idea of Christian sanctification (or the process of becoming holy). I thought:

Sanctification is kinda like spiritual evolution so if social evolution happens (like sociobiology argues) then maybe socio-spiritual evolution happens?

In simpler terms. Does the church evolve? Are there mutations that help or harm the church?

I suppose those questions rely on the definition of the church. I think there are two definitions of "church". The first definition is the spiritual reality which is God's people or Christ's bride The second definition is the institution of the church; specific local communities with pastors, elders, deacons, etc. a "particular" church, a denomination. I'm content to say that the church by the former definition doesn't really evolve. If you believe in unconditional election this is an easy one. Those that might subscribe to "conditional election" have it a bit harder, but I don't find it too hard to believe that an omniscient being would know who will "choose" to believe. The church by the later definition does and should change.

Let me offer a couple thoughts about that. First, that the "institution" of the church "evolves" shouldn't come as a surprise; it is composed of changing individuals. Second, we know that the church has changed historically (certainly different customs, but also different theologies... remeber the Reformation, among many others), and we can deduce that it will continue that trend. You can probably come up with lots of other ways that the church changes.

So... What's my point? In the churches that I've been in, there seems to be a tendency to treat the church that should change (institution) as the one that doesn't change (spiritual). This may be one of the reasons why people don't like organized religion like Daniel points out. Certainly there are fundamental beliefs that the institutions hold that won't change (there's plenty of room for Confessions and Creeds), but personally I'd be happier if we got more comfortable with change as institutions. Try to talk about "post-modern theology" or the "emerging church" in the wrong crowd and you'll have lots of uncomfortable and defensive folks. That's probably not rocket science; change is difficult. As for me, I'm comfortable stepping out in faith and trusting God to lead us into truth and away from lies as we change.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Creed and confession

I had the following discussion with a friend:

What do you think about this McLaren dialog (from "A New Kind of Christian")?

I protested "Neo, I never said that my interpretations were infallible. I'm just saying that the Bible itself is." He responded, "Well, I'm wondering, if you have an infallible text, but all your interpretations of it are admittedly fallible, then you at least have to always be open to being corrected about your interpretations, right?" I was nodding again. Yes. Of course. Neo kept talking: "So the authoritative text is never what I say about the text or even what I understand the text to say but rather what God means the text to say, right? So the real authority does not reside in the text itself, in the ink on paper, which is always open to misinterpretation---sometimes, history tells us, horrific and dangerous misinterpretations. Instead the real authority lies in God, who is there behind the text of beyond it of above it right? In other words, the authority is not in what I say the text says but in what God says the text says.

I don't think McLaren would argue that we should then, never say anything about what scripture says, but rather we should just be careful to not think that we have all of the answers correct. Perhaps there are things in our current theology that will, in 200 years, look like the theology that allowed for slavery 200 years ago (slavery was the "horrific and dangerous misinterpretation" referred to above)?

My friend replied:

Thanks for the opportunity to continue the discussion.

What McLaren is saying has some merit. However, the question arises, "How then can I know anything with certainty, with certainty enough to live my life on"? Is there not a place for the acceptance and deeper yet, belief, in something that the Church has set out to be true, i.e. the Creeds and Confessions? Certainly we must hold our beliefs with humility, but this does not mean that our beliefs can have no authority in anyone else's life. Or am I missing the point?

My final reply:

You're right. The danger in postmodernism is towards relativism where no one has any right to believe anything with "certainty". McLaren would call such a person a "bad postmodern." McLaren agrees that there is a place for confessionalism and creeds. I might summarize McLaren by saying that we need to hold onto Confessions and Creed loosely and with faith. We need to hold on to them and cherish them as the ancient story of our "family"; as our story. We need to hold onto them as the best efforts of countless Godly men and women to understand God and his purposes in our life. We should not hold onto them as a rigid and unchangeable rule by which we can separate those who know God from those who do not. We should not hold onto them like facts that you memorized in Biology class. We should not hold onto them as a substitute for wrestling with hard questions about God. We should not hold onto them as a substitute for God Himself.

I was thinking about reading the Bible the other day, and had the thought that we should disdain the reading of scripture if it's not a place where God is met. On those days where, for whatever reason (I think it might be God training us to seek Him and only Him), we don't experience God in reading scripture we should be disappointed in the waste of time because there is no value in reading scripture if God is not there (I grant that it's not entirely wasted... God may use your invested time later)

I think a key point is that with confession and creed, it's easy to learn and recite a "theological fact" and never think about it again just like you never think about what 2 + 2 is. Doing this closes one door to experience God and never lets Him mature your thinking.

One more thought... I don't think that reason is the only way to experience certainty. Do you love your wife? Are you certain? Did you come to that conclusion by reason? I'm "certain" that I know God, and that he loves me because of how he has moved in my heart. I did not need Confession or Creed to come to that conclusion. Creed and Confession are less important and less infallible than we think.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

My new favorite thing

The combonation of and Live Bookmarks in Firefox is my new favorite thing. I've always hated the fact that my bookmarks, which I use a lot as a memory device for interesting, relevant, and important information can be so easily lost and aren't shared between the various computers I use. I agree with Jeremy Zawodny, the question in the future is going to be where you store your data. This new combonation is excellent. I post all my bookmarks to and I access them through the RSS feeds using Live Bookmarks. Any new machine I hop onto, I can get at my book marks easily with and I can make them seem local just be subscribing to the feed. Nice.

P.S. If you've got a big bookmark list in Firefox already you can use this perl script to import them. The only trick is figuring out where Firefox stores your bookmarks.htm file. Also, if I needed to do the import again, I'd have it add tags based on the "folder structure"... Right now you only get one tag ".imported" which is lame. That said, it worked great.

[Update] Brian pointed out that I just overlooked the option to the script that allows you to assign tags based on folder structure. My bad. Thanks Brian for pointing that out and for writing a cool little script!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Backing up your data

I've been researching, and thinking about how on earth to backup all of my data in a cost effective way. The problem started when I got a powerbook and a digital video camera about 2 years ago. Couple that with iMovie and suddenly I was generating MASSIVE amounts of data. I ripped 5 years worth of analog video tapes onto my LaCie firewire external drives (200GB =~ 186GB) when I ran out of space. Worse yet, I ran out of space and didn't have any of it backed up. So I spent HOURS ripping the data and I could lose it with the death of a disk.

I considered buying additional firewire drives, but that's pretty expensive and you start to run out of power outlets pretty quickly. Then I considered DVD backup, but they only hold 4-8 GB and I have about 400GB so you're looking at multiple days of burn time to get one copy (at least with 1x burner). I also considered tape devices, but the low-end ones are still pretty expensive and only hold 40GB of data. If you consider higher capacity autoloading drives you're looking at $3-4k minimum.

What I wanted was huge amount of storage (~1 TB) that was redundant and online. So I setout to understand RAID. The previous article does an excellent job explaining RAID-5 and is exactly what I wanted "redundant, online, data that scales to massive sizes". I started looking for software solutions for my mac (thinking I could just use my current drives plus a couple more) but there aren't any. SoftRAID and Apple have solutions for RAID-0 and RAID-1, but not RAID-5 (though SoftRAID people say they're looking at RAID-5). I relented and went with a hardware solution, which are expensive but you can use commodity disks with them.

I bought the Arena NAS4 from Mac Ally and 5 200GB Maxtor SATA drives. The beauty is that I now will have 800GB of redundant, network accessible (10BaseT, 100BaseT, or Gigabit) storage. It wasn't "cheap" (~$2000) but doing software based RAID-1 with 8 of these is roughtly the same cost and you don't get network accessibility (for free at least), it isn't as fast (no striping and software RAID is slower), and you've got to have 8 power outlets. I considered sticking with LaCie's RAID solution, but it's not available until "Spring 2005" and it didn't have the NAS feature which was an added bonus.

A few final thoughts. Remember, it's not at all clear in any of the product literature that I've seen, but the self-contained hardware RAID solutions almost never include disks so you need to factor in that cost when considering the solution. Also, yes I know that I could get commodity hardware, a RAID card, and run Linux. However, doing that, I'd have to trade the nice compactness of my new solution and the hot-swapability. I also doubt that it'd be all that much cheaper when you're talking about hosting 4+ drives. Finally, FYI... I found great prices on

[Update] Michael asks "Why not Mirra?" My answer...

  1. I didn't know about it ;)

  2. PC only?!?

  3. Maximum data size is 250GB; I wanted at least 500GB.

  4. It's not redundant so even if you only wanted 250GB of space you still have to have 250GB elsewhere

  5. Poor product specs. Can you tell if it has Gigabit ethernet ports?

  6. It seems like one of their key strengths is ubiquitous network access; toss the thing on the net and you can get at your data (and keep it synced) from wherever you want to access your data)

Michael also mentioned that he's heard of cases where RAID controllers went bonkers and corrupted data... Hmmm... Not sure what to do about that one.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Batch two down

Last friday in addition to bottling my IPA I brewed an oatmeal stout. Excepting the sparge which had a small hiccup, this batch went a lot smoother. In the sparge, I couldn't get a good filter bed setup and my sparge got totally clogged. In trying to unclog it I dislodged the hose from the false bottom and all hope was lost. However, as they say, "necessity is the mother of invention." I dumped my grain back into the mash pot and worked on the false bottom I was using in my sparge container (a 5 gallon cooler with a rubber "bung" installed where the spigot used to be). Basically, I cut a rubber hose length-wise and fitted that around the perimeter of the false bottom. Then I cut another length of hose and made a circle of hosing. I placed that circle under the false bottom and hooked it all up again. Here's some lame ASCII art that is a profile of the setup...

| |
| |
| |
| |
| | 5 gallon cooler
| |
| |
| |
| |
| |-----0-------- hose through rubber
|{----------}|<- bung and into false bottom
| | ^ | | \
------------ false bottom with hose around it
^ ^
circle of hose

This setup worked like a charm. I just dumped the mash in and let it sit occassionally adding hot water. Basically the hose around the false bottom made a better seal with the sides of the cooler, and the extra hose on the bottom blocked out and remaining grain that may have slipped passed the false bottom; it also gave a little extra space that allowed better wort flow.

After the initial sparge challenge, I ended up with TOO MUCH wort. I had almost 7.5 gallons in my 8gallon kettle so I started to boil over, and had to dump out half a gallon. After that, I boiled down to 5 gallons and pitched the yeast after cooling the yeast (a chiller is a FINE thing... took only 20 minutes). Fermentation got going really strong after about 12 hours, and wrapped up within 4 days. I just racked it the first time tonight.

Bittering Hops:
1 oz Willamette
1 oz Chinook

Finishing Hops:
1 oz Willamette

OG: 1.072
FG: 1.031

So, that should me ABV of 5.371. Not bad, and the initial taste test is promising.

Lots of people complain about the hard work involved in brewing and how it's just so easy to buy microbrews. I kinda like it. For now at least.

Oh my hoppy goodness!

I couldn't wait any longer. I bottled my first batch of beer (an IPA) last Friday, and today I decided to have my first bottle. It was EXCELLENT. Maybe not the best IPA I've ever had, but IMHO probably top ten. It was (understandably) light on carbonation which should get better as it ages, but it was fully-bodied nicely hoppy, all around delicious. I've got to pass some along to the robots; 43 things helped me get there.

Thursday, January 6, 2005

Postmodern theology in pop-culture

I was watching West Wing last night, and I did a double take (literally... thanks TiVo) at this exchange between Toby and a Republican senator that just popped in for this episode.

Wilkenson: "Do you believe the Bible to be literally true?"

Toby: "Yes sir, but I don't think either of us is smart enough to understand it."

In my limited reading, this is probably the most concise rendering of what a postmodern theologian (at least Christian) looks like. I did a double take because I fully expected Toby to say something like "are you kidding me? that's just a bunch of stories that we tell children to make them behave?" or something else to the effect of "that's superstitition" or something otherwise derogatory that would emphasize how Christianity isn't reasonable.

Christianity often times isn't reasonable, but then again would you imagine any infinite, omnipotent, omniscient Being to seem reasonable to us; finite, powerless, and not all that brilliant? But why should it be dismissed because of that? Donald Miller in "Blue Like Jazz" has a great thought about this:

(talking about a friend that has just told him that she CAN'T believe in God because she feels Christianity is "stupid")

I had no explanation for Laura. I don't think there is an explanation. My belief in Jesus did not seem rational or scientific and yet there was nothing I could do to separate myself from this belief. I think Laura was looking for something rational, because she believed that all things that were true were rational. But that isn't the case. Love, for example, is a true emotion, but it is not rational. What I mean is, people actually feel it. I have been in love, plenty of people have been in love, yet love cannot be proved scientifically. Neither can beauty. Light cannot be proved scientifically, and yet we all believe in light and by light see all things. There are plenty of things that are true that don't make any sense. I think one of the problems Laura was having was that she wanted God to make sense. He doesn't. He will make no more sense to me than I will to an ant.

Increasingly, I feel like the popular rhetoric about religion is shifting away from proof to experience. We don't have to feel the burden of proving that God exists, but rather is He beautiful and does following Him make your life more joyful/hopeful?

Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Authority is dead and the modern period killed it...

This Christmas season my wife and I have listened on Messiah incessantly. One song has occupied my thoughts more than any other. On disc two "Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates" is a beautiful song with the interplay of male and female voices, but it's the lyrics that got me thinking. They go like this:

"Lift up your up your heads, o ye gate and be ye lift up the everlasting hosts and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is the King of Glory?... The Lord of hosts..."

Listening to that tune, I realized that I don't really relate to the words "king", "lord", and "glory" and yet they are littered throughout scripture (king 332 times, lord 6513 times, and glory 284 times) and these songs speak of perfect power, authority, justice and love with such ethereal beauty that I long to relate. The interesting thing is that Handel and his audience didn't seem to have this problem...

Over the coming weeks I'm going to try to catalog some topics that may or not be interesting to talk about in a postmodern theology group. Without further ado here's the first installment.

Disclaimer: I'm not a scholar of history or theology.

The modern period (by which I mean 1450ish - 1950ish) killed authority and is the reason why I no longer relate to the words above. In the early modern and modern age we see the following (very roughly):

* The fall of feuadalism and rise of capitalism
* The fall of monarchy and rise of liberal democracies
* The fall of the authority of the church and the rise of the authority of reason

All of these de-emphasize authority and emphasisze the individual. No longer am I a "vassal" subject to a "lord"; I make my wage however I choose in my capitalist economy. No longer am I a subject goverened by laws that I do not choose; my voice is heard (at least in theory) and the laws that govern me are my laws and I can change them. No longer are there institutions that have an authoritative claim on me (like the medieval church); I will think what I want and reason will be my king.

But I'm not really interested in talking about the modern era. The question is "do you think that authority is dead? will authority return in the postmodern era and what will it look like?"

I'll close with this small thought. At least in American culture we are starved for community (see Bowling Alone) and it seems to me that technology is trying to fill that void (text messaging, blogs, instant messaging, social software, 43 things ;) I think that with the postmodern age community will rise, and with the rise of community we'll see a different kind of authority. I don't really know what those authorities will look like (thought leaders? experts? connectors?) nor do I know the extent to which they might influence our ability to rekindle the ancient concepts of power and authority, but it seems worth thinking about. I'm too tired at this point to know whether tha last paragraph was thinking about.... I'll post a follow-up when I figure that out ;)