The Button Club

I’d like to introduce you to The Button Club.

All the members of The Button Club are acquaintances of mine. Many of them are friends. A couple of them are confidants. They came together because of a community I help curate. They’re taking Erin Bried’s book and making a lot of awesome with it as they tackle the challenges therein.

This is where I hear my mother, a home economics education teacher by training, asking me two things: “Are you going to follow along with them?” and “Are any of them single?” The answer to both questions, Mom, is yes. 😉

I figure my craft-minded friends [you know who you are, local ladies] will get a kick out of this. I will, too, because I really love these women and can’t wait to see what they make of this project.

Michael Lewis’s The Big Short

Michael Lewis famously wrote Liar’s Poker in the late 1980s as an attempt to say, “Hey! This Wall Street system is flawed!” It takes him 260 pages to get there, but in the final chapter, Lewis brings the threads of his story to a point: he was right all along. I won’t spoil it in particular, but I will take this killer quote:

[Wall Street officials and government regulators] had proven far less capable of grasping basic truths in the heart of the U.S. financial system than a one-eyed money manager with Asperger’s syndrome.


Lewis’s larger point, made at the end of the book but worth examining more fully by people far smarter than I am, is simple: when you remove the responsibility for risk from the people taking those risks, the system has a fundamental disconnect.

I think about this in the terms of my industry, aerospace. NASA and its contractors deal in a fully realizable, fundamental risk vehicle: the very lives of the astronauts we send into space. Twice now, America has sent space voyagers on a mission from which they did not return. Did anyone really lose their jobs over Challenger or Columbia? Not so much as you’d be able to tell. Shoot, the fourth-biggest grand fuckup in American space voyaging [the Apollo I fire being the third-biggest], Apollo XIII, got turned into the movie that glorified nerdy aerospace engineers more than we ever dreamed possible! Somewhat fittingly, it was 40 years ago today that Lovell, Swigert, and Haise returned to Earth after their harrowing mission.

The only thing keeping aerospace people in line with the risks that astronauts take is the moral one: we do not want them to die. Perhaps that’s the reason that no one loses their jobs after these disasters—sure, we all feel just terrible that it happened. [I’m no exception: the one time I got drunk enough to be sick the next day was the night Columbia disintegrated.] But dammit, I feel like there ought to be more to it than that. Just as soon as that moral aspect goes away, what the hell do we care? We’re not on the pointy end of the rocket. Those people took the risk—and we were just the lowest bidder. [Insert tittering about government contracting here.] I pray to God every time I think about this that we in the aerospace industry never lose this moral compass, because without it a lot more people are going to die.

It is perhaps no surprise, then, that I find that Wall Street has completely lost its moral compass. Maybe Lewis is right: maybe John Gutfreund blew it up the day he took Salomon Brothers public. But finance, which should ultimately be about taking reasonable risks and charging people according to their risks, became more about structured finance, hedging against your risks with hedges upon hedges upon hedges. Eventually, it got so dense that no one really cared that people were getting liars’ loans: the more crappy loans that were put out there, the more money the structured finance people made. Until, of course, the structure toppled.

Lewis is right about this: it comes back to being able to grasp basic truths.

Why I Built

So Jennifer Knapp is gay. Okay. No big deal to me. I’m still ambivalent on the whole “homosexuality is a sin” thing. That’s true: I go back and forth on it most every time I think about it.

What this fact doesn’t change for me is my respect for Jen and her music. I loved Kansas, and while her late stuff was merely okay for me, that record is still one of my favorites 12 years later. I also buy that life is messy, and that not loving someone because they’re sinful is so hypocritical, because I’m so sinful myself. The moment I figure life out and figure out how to Live Right, I won’t need Jesus anymore. Wesleyan arguments for earthly holiness to the contrary—never have held to those, folks; settle down—I just don’t see where it works.

And as my friend and fellow Jen Knapp fan, Derek Webb, said this morning:

careful not to make lack of sin a prerequisite for loving or befriending someone. you’ll be really lonely (& you’ll hate yourself)

Saying that “I Support Jennifer Knapp” doesn’t imply that I support everything that she does. But in a time where her coming out is going to have all sorts of Christians criticizing her and making her seem like less of a person, I wanted to say, “I think that you’re just as worthy of grace as I am.”

[Many thanks to Chris for the PHP hackery and to Derek and Hunter for the moral support.]

The New Homiletics in a Multimedium World

Rae Whitlock, the black Calvinist Howard Stern, tweeted an article about relative sermon lengths in Catholic, mainline Protestant, and conservative Protestant churches. After the expected response, I then went and actually read the piece, commenting “I like sermons in the 20-25 minute range.” This is in line with the Methodist tradition of “three points, a poem, and a prayer”. Rae brought up his perceived need for lengthiness, saying “Sermons tend (& often need) to be longer in “younger” churches b/c of vast biblical illiteracy. Things take longer to explain.” He has a point, certainly, but like my old history teacher, Donald “Sonny” Renfroe, liked to say: ‘Like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject, short enough to keep it interesting.” Oh my!

I believe that a new homiletics starts with a multimedia approach to the presentation of the Gospel. Plenty of churches are podcasting their sermons, including Grace Central in Columbus, Ohio, where Rae happens to be a ruling elder. Grace Central has a resources page, which as I remember it is partially maintained by Rae. All well and good, but when you go to an individual sermon, such as Greg Blosser’s “An Ordinary Church” from March 28th, you’re given only audio. No text is provided. Multimedia is just that: multiple mediums for communication of information. While I can create a permalink to Greg’s sermon, you can’t read the text. More importantly, you can’t be linked in that text to relevant sources of information: Bible verses explained or merely referenced, allusions to previous sermons, or references to books, film, music, etc. The key here is to provide context.

I’ll provide an example here to expound upon the first point: Rae also tweeted about Will “Duce” Branch’s fall and restoration. In response, I wondered if “[h]is discussion of 1Jn3:6 seems to indicate a worldview consistent with non-perseverance of the saints. Hm.” For reference: 1 John 3:6 states: “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” Rae then provided context: “Unless his theology’s changed in the meantime, he’s (still) a Calvinist. With that in mind, I didn’t pick that up at all…” and Seemed (2 me) more like he was saying that the text suggests ‘those who do this should examine whether or not they’re Christians.'” I then freely admitted that “Perhaps I’m imposing my own worldview. Hic liber est in quo sua quærit dogmata quisque, Invenit et pariter dogmata quisque sua.” You know, “This is the book where everyone seeks his own proper opinion; This is the book where still everyone finds what he seeks.” Indeed. I certainly bring my own worldview about perseverance of the saints, which is definitely a conditional view of the perseverance, because I find too many Scriptural references to ignore, even as some are to be reconciled. Even more, if greater context for 1 John 3:6 is provided, one runs into verse nine: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”

Perhaps it is obvious from the previous paragraph that I believe that references are key to a multimedia approach to a new homiletics. I have taken a conversation that was loosely had over Twitter and joined the pieces in this discussion. David Weinberger would be so proud of me. And this is where I feel that the modern church can make its mark: in a generation that seeks information through multiple mediums, this is an opportunity to satisfy that consumptive need with the spiritual meat our congregations desire [whether they know it or not]. The concern, of course, goes back to what Rae said: this is there for “younger” churches. I presume that he means in age of the congregants, but he could also mean in the age of the congregation as a body. In either case, a solid Scriptural foundation must be laid so the conversation can be reasoned, insightful, and edifying. Sir Francis Bacon wrote five hundred years ago that “[r]eading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” In large part, that’s what I’ve done in writing this entry: I read the links Rae provided, we discussed them, and I drew my own conclusions in writing here.

Haikus are easy / But sometimes they don’t make sense / Refrigerator

Now let us pray. “Dear Lord, please let Rae have a good laugh at this, but also let him draw something from it. Also, let the reading of this idea, which is certainly not fully formed, inspire more discussion and more writing. We want to come to a greater knowledge of how to represent You to a new generation of believers. Amen.”