• Some Thoughts on Race for White Christians

    Alan Jacobs recently wrote a couple of posts addressing the question of how Christians ought to approach the struggle for racial justice. In the first post, responding to a recent statement made by Baylor’s president regarding the institution’s relationship to race, Jacobs argues that justice is for the work of reconciliation. He writes,

    In my judgment, it is the opportunity to receive and extend forgiveness that is the greatest possible inducement to repentance and amendment of life, and — I cannot stress this too strongly — a shared repentance and amendment of life make genuine community possible. I have many colleagues who believe the same, and students at Baylor can find us. We will join the prophets and cry out for justice to roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. But we will also echo St. Paul and tell you that we Christians forgive others because God in Christ has forgiven us. We will tell you that your shortcomings and failures can never outpace the mercy of God, who loves his wayward children, all of them, and will someday wipe from their eyes every tear. This is the great hope of those who wound as well as those who are wounded. And all of us sometimes wound and sometimes are wounded.

    (And then we will sit down at a table and strive better to understand, and better to pursue, the good, the true, and the beautiful.)

    But does Baylor University, as an institution, believe in any of this? If so, why is none of it ever mentioned in our administration’s public statements about race and racism? Why do we strive to build an entire system of dealing with racism that doesn’t touch on the Christian Gospel at any point? Why don’t we offer a word of hope? President Livingstone likes to say, “The world needs a Baylor.” If Baylor simply echoes the language and the policies of other institutions, then no, the world really doesn’t need a Baylor. But if we think and speak and act out of a deep commitment to the Gospel of the Crucified and Risen One, then we can make a difference indeed.

    In the second post, he addresses white Christians who responded to his first post, saying they feel like they “can’t win” in this struggle. He paraphrases their complaint, “Nothing we can do is right. If we speak, we’re wrong to speak; if we’re silent, we’re wrong to be silent. What are we supposed to do??”. I’m not unsympathetic to this frustration. The ideas behind the exhortations to both speaking and not speaking are more nuanced than their apparent contradiction conveys, but I understand how those messages can feel disorienting.

    And I also feel it bears saying that in the midst of our necessary national reckoning with the legacy and ongoing presence of racism, a lot of harmful and regressive ideas are being propagated as well. Others have written about how some purportedly anti-racist efforts and ideas actually help to perpetuate prejudice and inequity. I think these issues are worth thinking critically about, but I don’t want to belabor them here.

    That said, I think bemoaning state of the culture wars can become tiresome, and I want to turn my attention for this post elsewhere. As an encouragement to those feeling beleagured, Jacobs presents Christ’s marching orders to Christians: love, serve, and forgive those who mistreat you. For Christians, this command is universally binding and applicable; I don’t expect this behavior from someone who doesn’t already confess Christ as Lord. Of course, it is certainly possible, and even commendable for a person of any (non)faith to practice such virtues, but I would never compel them to.

    But, as Jacobs admits, the command to love, serve, and forgive doesn’t make these actions any easier to practice. And, I would add, despite the universal applicability of Christ’s command, it can be, and has been, abused by white Christians to deflect calls for justice made by our black brothers and sisters. This is not to say they every affirmation of love, mercy, and forgiveness is such a deflection, only that it can be. That said, I’d be remiss not to note that the late John Lewis showed us that the way of the Good Shepherd can be remarkably transformative.

    To augment what Jacobs as written, here are some practical thoughts for white Christians who are feeling befuddled at the moment:

    1. Empathize. Consider how it would feel to always be treated with suspicion, to operate from a place of ongoing, low-grade fear and anxiety. Perhaps you’re already familiar with these feelings to some degree. Now, consider how it would feel that these experiences and feelings are the result of something as immutable and arbitrary as the color of your skin. You might feel that you “can’t win”. If you sit by quietly as you experience injustice, mistreatment, or disadvantage, your predicament will go unacknowledged. If you speak up, you run the risk of being charged with impoliteness and divisiveness. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s an impossible situation. The words of St. James are instructive here: “let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak”. He doesn’t say don’t speak, or don’t think critically, but listening and understanding are our first responsibility.

    2. Get the hell off Twitter (or any social media, for that matter), and stay away from the clickbait/ragebait media machine. These platforms thrive in a crisis by perpetuating an environment of anxiety, suspicion, and outrage, leading to fatigue, exhaustion, and despair. In the content hustle, the most ideologically polarizing and superficially clever voices rise to the top. You will think you are on the losing side of a zero-sum struggle because these platforms privilege whatever will get the most attention, and it turns out that caustic, vitriolic, amygdala-damaging content gets a lot of clicks. These platforms distort our perception and make us feel perpetually threatened, and their business models will always, ineluctably enable this tendency. Which leads me to my third suggestion…

    3. Mister Rogers used to tell a story that when he was afraid, his mother would tell him to “Look for the helpers”. Aside from reading, marking, and inwardly digesting the Word of God, and thinking for yourself, open yourself up to voices that are addressing the problems we face with wisdom, love, and grace. Even if our “national discourse” is a complete dumpster fire, dominated by bad faith and vindictiveness, the role and actions of the Church are note inevitably subject to it. Instead, we are already declared to be salt and light, and our responsibility is to faithfully do the work of seasoning and illuminating, showing mercy as we have been shown mercy. The battle is not over, but it has already been won. The same Christ who forgives our sins will also come again to judge the living and the dead.The justification of God both justifies the ungodly and will undo the damage wrought by the ungodly. In Christ, we are declared peacemakers because he has already made peace between us and God, and in so doing tore down the wall of hostility between people. If we see walls of hostility go up, it is not our responsibility to tear them down, but to proclaim that they’ve already been torn down, and to live accordingly. We have been declared forgiven, and are therefore free to own the sin and suffering of our histories, and bear the burdens of those who came before us, to repent where we need to repent, and lament where we need to lament.

    I realize that the foregoing paragraph tells what the words and actions of helpers might look like, but doesn’t actually share any examples. Here are a few places to start replacing your Twitter diet with more nutritious thoughts about faith, race, and society:

    This post is running long, but I hope these thoughts and resources are encouraging, clarifying, and refreshing. Thinking about these things can be painful, but Christ has already moved through the pain for us and will move through it with us. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

  • Favorite Reads: First half of 2020

    Hard as it may be to believe, we’re well into the second half of 2020. Here are my favorite books I’ve read this year from January to July, with occasionaly commentary. I know July is technically the second half of the year, but… I didn’t think of this idea until July.

    Dan Simmons, Hyperion

    Christian Wiman, Survival Is A Style

    Daniel Warren Johnson, Murder Falcon - My friend Collin bought this for me as a Christmas gift, and it is one of the coolest freaking graphic novels I’ve ever read.

    Meghan O’Gieblyn, Interior States - A collection of essays full of great reflections on and explorations of religion, technology, and culture. As someone who is very familiar with the evangelical subculture O’Gieblyn was raised in, her writing was especially poignant for me.

    Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary

    Derek Olsen, Inwardly Digest - As a newcomer to Anglicanism, Olsen’s introduction to the Book of Common Prayer was fascinating and helpful.

    Pauli Murray, Dark Testament and Other Poems - A collection of poems from Pauli Murray, a civil rights activist who was also the first African-American woman to be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal church.

    Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways

    Georges Simenon, Maigret Takes a Room

    Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart - Nouwen demonstrates how the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers on prayer can help us live in our (post)modern age.

    Leigh Bardugo, Ninth House - Like Harry Potter, but set at Yale and way more sinister. Bardugo’s first non-YA novel.

    Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell, From Hell

    Ray Bradbury, Classic Stories 1 - A compilation of Bradbury’s short stories from a few collections. I’m amazed at his ability to build convincing worlds and interesting characters in the space of a few pages.

    John Scalzi, The Consuming Fire - The second book in Scalzi’s Interdependency space opera trilogy. Some biting political satire in here along with good scifi fun.

    John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell, March: Books 1-3 - A graphic memoir of John Lewis’s time in the civil rights movement. I read this at the end of May. I wish I had known and appreciated the extent of Lewis’s story well before I read it. Now that he’s entered into glory, I commend this to you more than ever.

    Walter Brueggemann, Reality, Grief, Hope - Brueggemann outlines how the three prophetic tasks - reality, grief, and hope - appear in the writings of the exilic prophets of the Old Testament, and shows how the circumstances they wrote to have striking parallels to 21st century America, and how they can act as a guide for the church today.

    Jim Butcher, Storm Front & Fool Moon - The first two novels in the Dresden Files. Noirish urban fantasy, and great fun.

    R.W.L. Moberly, The Bible in a Disenchanted Age - Moberly shows how Christians in our modern, “disenchanted” world can still take the Bible seriously as a means of God’s self-disclosure. The so-called “deconstruction” craze among “ex-vangelicals” seems so 2018, but I think his book speaks tactfully and compellingly to a lot of the questions that people were (are?) asking about scripture.

    Junji Ito, Uzumaki - I had never read manga before, but Ito’s Lovecraftian tale is easily one of the best horror novels I’ve read.

    Reginald Dwayne Betts, Felon - Betts’ collection of poems viscerally and movingly explore the inner experience of prisoners, and the scars on the psyche that prison leaves, even after “release”.

    Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy - I’ve been kicking the can down the road on reading this for years, but now seemed as good a time as any. Stevenson makes a convincing case for the necessity of reforming our criminal justice system, while also telling a profound story of the transformative power and necessity of mercy.

    E.F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful - Published in 1973, Schumacher challenges the underlying assumptions of economics and argues for the urgent necessity of reframing our economy to value people and place over unchecked and unquestioned growth.

    Clifford Beal, The Guns of Ivrea - A pirate fantasy with an historical fiction vibe, but set in a completely imagined world. One of the blurbs on the cover cited echoes of Master and Commander and Game of Thrones, and the comparison checks out

    Suzanne Nossel, Dare To Speak - Nossel, the CEO of PEN America, makes a compelling case for the necessity of an open society that values free expression, while also urging those who advocate for it to be thoughtful and considerate in their use of language. I hope to have a post of booknotes from this one soon.

  • Substack Journalism

    Yesterday Alan Jacobs praised the return of Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish. He noted how it’s part of an emerging trend among journalists to form their own, independent platforms where they’re not beholden to the editorial demands of larger institutions. He also pointed out how directly paying writers for periodical writing quickly introduces a scaling problem for readers - paying five to ten dollars a month per writer quickly adds up. But, Jacobs suggests that putting writing behind paywalls rather than on the open web might be “a feature rather than a bug! Fewer morons to insult you without reading what you write.” I really like this line of thought, and have a few concerns about it, and some of Substack journalism’s emerging patterns, as well.

    First, I’m concerned that the actual content of Substack journalism is going to be increasingly self-congratulatory, self-referential, and montonous. More specifically, I’m concerned that good writers like Matt Taibbi and Jesse Singal are going to devote most of their work to entries about “cancel culture”, free speech, academic/journalistic freedom, etc. While discussing these issues is a worthy activity, it’s not the only thing worth writing about. And I also think that left-leaning writers should be willing to criticize their own camp, if only for the sake of intellectual credibility. David French has been doing this on the right for years now, and it’s long overdue for some progressive writers to do the same. But, between Taibbi and Singal’s Substack home pages, all but one of the headlines seem devoted to criticizing sloppy thinking on the left. Again, I think these criticisms should be made, but let’s not stop writing about actual systemic policy issues as well. If writers going independent are so tired of culture war-ing, then I hope that they’ll eventually resume writing about something more interesting than culture wars.

    Second, I’m concerned that this space of writers going independent is going to be primarily populated with those who already have existing platforms. Andrew Sullivan claims that going independent is necessary, “especially for up-and-coming writers”, but those who already have a following are going to have a much easier time finding financial backing than those who don’t. Of course, part of Substack’s appeal is that writers don’t need to pay until they start generating revenue.

    Third, I’m concerned about the problem of access. The cost of access to independent writing will almost certainly mitigate the number of trolls engaging with (or rather, harassing) writers; if you hold nothing but animosity to a given writer and their views, you’re unlikely to pay for the opportunity to read them and support their ongoing work. In this way, the paywall acts as a feature. At the same time, it is a bug for those who’d like to read and engage, but for various reasons are unable to afford access. My worry is that the audience of readers and responders to these writers will be limited to the educated and well-resourced class similar to those already paying for subscriptions to The New York Times and The Economist. In other words, the problem of echo chambers will persist. Yascha Mounk can want to persuade people all he wants, but underpaid and overworked Americans already inundated with social media noise will probably be unlikely to listen when they already have some level of information exposure available for free on the major platforms. The paywall will just be seen as another form of gatekeeping by the elite class, and they’ll continue to read the bad-faith low-quality clickbait/ragebait churned out by content mills instead. If independent writers are seriously concerned about the quality of discourse happening in our country, I urge them to consider the problem of access.

    Jacobs speculates about the possibility that “some kind of non-partisan, non-ideological journal of ideas will eventually emerge”, something I remain both skeptical and hopeful about, but in the meantime I think writers looking to build their own platforms should address the problem themselves. Humor writer Sam Irby handles this by having free and paid tiers for her newsletter (which I highly recommend). I’m unsure if Substack has a feature for this, but giving readers the opportunity to sponsor free, all-access memberships is another possible strategy. I would gladly pay double for The Dispatch if it meant that an underprivileged person could read it. Tangentially related, I’d say the same for micro.blog. Or, another option is to give everything away for free, and make paying entirely optional, trusting in the generosity and goodwill of readers to pay when they can. It’s ambitious, and risky, but so is this endeavor to further democratize quality writing online.

  • Thoughts on the Harper's letter

    This past week Harper’s magazine posted a letter signed by over 150 academics and artists from across multiple disciplines urging respect for diversity of opinion and open debate, and it garnered quite a bit of negative attention, from multiple political perspectives. I’ve had a number of thoughts about it, and I’ve struggled to put them together in a coherent and thoughtful way (to be honest, I’ve been struggling quite a bit lately to assemble thoughts about almost anything in a coherent way). So here’s my best shot, assembled in bullet point form.

    • I really do not want to be having this conversation right now. As David French recently asked (paywall), “How does any of this help women like Marquita Johnson?”, a black woman who was sentenced to 496 days in jail for unpaid traffice tickets. People are suffering profound and often deadly injustice because of a dehumanizing criminal justice system, and we’re having to revisit fundamental and necessary discussions about public discourse.

    • There have been a number of criticisms raised against the letter. On the right, many took issue with its identification of Trump as an ally of “the forces of illiberalism”. If you don’t think the right has a “cancel culture” problem, I urge you to look into David French’s own story of online harassment for his criticism of Trump.

    • Some argue that the letter’s signatories are operating out of fear for their own irrelevance or cancellation, despite being “uncancellable”. This argument is self-contradictory. If these individuals are truly “uncancellable” because of their cultural clout, then it does not follow that fear of loss, whether financial or influential, was a significant motivating factor in their choice to sign it. I highly doubt J.K. Rowling is concerned that her money pile is in danger.

    • The “more specific specific counter letter” published by The Objective, a newsletter whose mission “is meant to confront inequities in coverage that have been recognized as rooted in the notion of ‘objectivity’”, took the original letter to task for beign vague and non-specific in its judgments, which is a great point of criticism. Arguably, the original letter was intended to be succinct and digestible, which may account for the lack of detail in the examples it cites.

    • The counter-letter points out how some of the Harper’s letter’s own signatories have also engaged in attempts to suppress voices that disagree with them. These actions should not have happened. Indeed, there is inredible potency to the counter-letter’s overall argument that for a long time, dissenting voices from non-white and non-heteronormative perspectives have been suppressed in journalism, academia, and publishing. I wholeheartedly affirm that their voices should be included and sometimes even amplified in public discourse, and heard out with earnest attention and respect. To do otherwise would be fundamentally opposed to the stated, if not lived, ideals encoded in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. I would also agree that arguments against “cancel culture” can be appropriated by reactionaries to justify ongoing suppression. Furthermore, websites like Professor Watchlist are just as guilty of the witch hunting and demand for ideological purity that the Harper’s letter decries, as are social media policies, NDAs, and refusing to allow Black reporters to cover BLM protests for fear that they might not be able to be objective (this last example is a demonstration of how racism and illiberalism often act hand-in-hand).

    • That said, the counter-letter also engages in self-contradiction and outright innaccuracy. (For this paragraph, I will use “HL” to denote the Harper’s letter, and “CL” to denote the counter-letter). The CL’s authors assert that the HL never addresses the suppression of marginalized voices in journalism, yet the CL identifies the HL’s mention that “journalists are barred from writing on certain topics” as referring to a Black journalist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who wasn’t permitted to write about BLM demonstrations. The CL also states that “The intellectual freedom of cis white intellectuals has never been under threat en masse, especially when compared to how writers from marginalized groups have been treated for generations”, to which I would offer the Soviet Union as counter evidence. If the CL’s authors appended “in America” to that sentence, I would be much more inclined to agree, but I think its universal and totalizing sweep ignores the realities of non-American history, an example of the parochial thinking that listening to diverse voices is supposed to help us avoid. Finally, it only perfunctorily acknowledges the firing of David Shor after he shared a study about the effectiveness of nonviolent protests, dismissing it as anomalous, while completely ignoring the stories of non-powerful people who have lost employment and income for expressing concern about BLM demonstrations or not having done anything wrong at all. (Apologies for linking to the NY Post, but sadly it seems that the more “liberal” outlets have been disinclined to pick up this story). Never mind ignoring the physical violence a gay progressive senator claims to have experienced at the hands of protestors in Madison, WI.

    • Generally, the counter-letter and many of the original letter’s critics often fixate on the identity of the editor’s signatories without substantially engaging its larger point: that authoritarian and totalitarian demands for ideological purity can infect any social movement, and that we should acknowledge the necessity of good-faith disagreement in a pluralistic society and seek to preserve it while we also fight for justice for oppressed and marginalized groups. Injustice should not be responded to with further injustice.

    • Also, the letter’s critics also seem to completely ignore the presence of Nell Irvin Painter and Reginald Dwayne Betts as signatories. I hadn’t even heard of Betts, a poet who was sentenced to eight years in prison after a carjacking at the age of sixteen, before reading this letter. That maybe a result of my (hopefully diminishing) ignorance of black writers, or just poetry in general, or more likely my ignorance of both. Regardless, he seems fascinating, and the Harper’s letter brought him to my awareness. So, it seemed like the letter in this case actually served to amplify the voice of someone who has experienced the suffering that countless marginzalized people experience daily.

    I care deeply about racial justice. I want to see tangible policy changes made that will end unjust policing and work to undo economic harm deeply rooted in our nation’s history. I also believe in a free society where people can seek the truth without fear of reprisal. A commitment to justice is inextricable from a commitment to truth. And a commitment to truth sometimes means we need to acknowledge that there are empirically verifiable realities that will not fit comfortably with the story we want to tell.

    I know I have more thoughts, and I haven’t done justice to them, but I only have so much time and cognitive bandwidth to write.

    So, what to do? For those who say they are committed to a just, pluralistic society, I make the following suggestions:

    • Speak the truth.
    • Assume good intent.
    • Be willing to listen to and even amplify diverse perspectives, even if you disagree.
    • Acknowledge the humanity and sacredness of those with whom you disagree.
    • Continue to proclaim the necessity of justice if we are to have true peace. Marquita Johnson, and countless others need it.

  • Update 14

    So, it’s been a minute.

    At Jenoa’s advice I resolved not to note the gap between posts, because, you know, I write here primarily for myself, no one’s checking in on me, etc. But I say “it’s been a minute” not so much because of the time between posts as much as what’s occurred in that time. I hesitate to rehash the events of the last few months, but who would have thought that in the midst of a global pandemic we would also see a global reckoning with racial injustice after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of law enforcement, during an election year in which the incumbent administration is arguably the most absurd and toxic in the nation’s history.

    And in less significant news, Warren Ellis, a man whose thought and work have influenced and informed me on a number of levels, closed his long-running newlsetter after more than fifty women revealed that he had harmed them through manipulative and emotionally abusive behavior for the last twenty years.

    And debates around “cancel culture” and illiberal/totalitarian attitudes on the left and the right have resurfaced. As have debates and discussions around policing statistics, statues, history, free expression, and speaking the truth, all of which are necessary to consider if we’re going to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly, which I would argue are necessary actions and attitudes if we’re actually going to move the needle and put a stop to the injustice and death that real people are experiencing.

    And I hesitate to even write about some of these things or my thoughts on them in the same space as the names of black people who have suffered mortally consequential injustice. And the real tragedy is that I probably could not name all of the people who have been killed or dehumanized in that manner because there are too many to name. And these people are not mere statistics - they have names. They had families. They had friends. They had desires and hopes and lives that were just as deep and rich and sacred as any.

    Say his name - Ahmaud Arbery
    Say his name - George Floyd
    Say her name - Breonna Taylor
    Say his name - Rayshard Brooks

    I’ve been quiet here partly because there’s just a lot I need to process about The World Out There, but also because, to be honest, I’ve been dealing with depression that’s been unparalleled in my own experience. I miss being able to hug people. I miss gathering at church to receive the body and blood of the crucified God and hear the comfortable words of absolution. I miss being able to enjoy the public spaces of the place where I live without the calculus of masks and hand sanitizer and six feet of space.

    I’m thankful that, because the state I live in has handled its response to the pandemic responsibly, I can see friends again, browse my local comic shop, go to the skate park, swim in the river, and even enjoy a beer and a meal at one of Charlottesville’s dining establishments. But, to say the least, it’s all taken an emotional toll, and I’ll be pretty excited once the infection rate for this virus gets below 1 or there’s a vaccine.

    (As an example, our church is holding another Race & Grace class this month via Zoom, and while it’s a good necessary thing we’re doing, I think engaging with and discussing issues that affect people are best done when we can encounter each other in our fully embodied and fleshly humanity, and not mediated through a freaking screen.)

    The last few months haven’t been all doom and gloom for me, and there are things I’ve enjoyed and want to share. I’ve got a microblog up and running here, as does Jenoa, which has brought back some of the fun of short-form/photo only posts, without the toxicity of Twitter and Instagram/Facebook’s walled gardens. Microblog brings the best features of those platforms to the open web.

    Additionally, my friends Zack and Brian have joined the isles of blogging. I heartily commend their spaces to you!

    And, the three of us were recently published in a short anthology of road trip writing!

    I’ve read, listened to, and watched (HAMILTON!!!) a lot of great things over the past few months. But for the sake of brevity, here are some links to things I’ve been thinking about. As we seek to do justice in our world, let’s be tenaciously committed to seeking, hearing, and speaking the truth.

    What the Bible Has to Say About Black Anger

    “But I didn’t mean to be racist.” Intent, impact, and empathy in race relations

    Faith and Values - It’s Time for a Revolution of the Soul

    Justice and Race: What we can and cannot change

    Under Robert E. Lee’s Shadow: Growing Up in The Lost Cause

    The Origins of ‘Defund the Police’

    The American Soviet Mentality

    Stop Firing The Innocent

    Look for people who care about the truth - Alan Jacobs

    A Note on the American Flag in 2020 - John Scalzi

    A couple of pieces that are unrelated to the above, but absolutely worth reading:

    The day the live concert returns - Dave Grohl

    Skateboaring New York under lockdown

  • Update 13

    So, as you can imagine, Some Things have happened since the last post. To be honest, it’s been hard to find the will to write. I don’t really want to write about what Warren Ellis calls “The Cough”. But it’s also been unavoidable, and it seems to be on everyone’s mind, and with good reason. But, as Robin Sloan recently wrote, “Do you want every glorious weirdo you’ve ever followed to morph into the same obsessive faux public health expert? YOU DO NOT!”. For the moment, it seems like a number of people have morphed into just that. It’s certainly provided a good opportunity to cull the feeds/newsletters.

    I can understand why it’s so intensely preoccupying; it certainly is for me. There have been more than a few disappointments; the UK trip is postponed until further notice, as is a planned California trip. I miss the sights and sounds of people eating and drinking and shopping and working on the downtown mall. I miss church and sharing in the body of Christ with other bodies. I miss hugs.

    And I’m worried. I’m worried for the elderly. I’m worried for the lonely. I’m worried for health care workers. I’m worried for countless small businesses.

    And I’m also hopeful. Our rector said there’s been a pandemic of kindness. People are shopping for their shut-in neighbors. Local communities are organizing ways to provide for those who have lost work and income. Those who can afford to seem to have doubled down on their support for the vibrant small business community of Charlottesville, taking advantage of takeout and curbside pickup where it’s available. I’m hopeful that this tragedy is revealing the arbitrary cruelty and fragility of our current political economy.

    I’ve been hesitant to write about this because, compared to many, my problems are far less significant; the most I’ve had to suffer is disappointment. I still have a great job, a home, good friends, a support network, and my health. The disappointment is real nonetheless, and I’d rather accept the feelings than deny them, but I’m finding gratitude is a powerful corrective when disappointment slips into self-pity or anxiety.

    Another reason I’ve been hesitant to write is that I don’t want to become another “faux public health expert”. There’s no shortage of coronaviral prophets, both of the hortatory and predictive variety. I’m more sympathetic to exhortation than prediction; people should take the health of their neighbors seriously, through all the appropriate behavioral mechanisms. But I fear for the physical integrity of my laptop and any nearby window if I read another piece of fortune telling from a writer or artist or developer or science journalist turned futurist-cum-armchair-epidemiologist.

    We cannot know the future. We can try to make informed guesses, but I’d rather leave that to experts.

    That was way more than I wanted to write about this. Thus, I conclude this section with a few pieces that discuss but are not actually about The Cough. I think they deserve more engagement, but maybe that’s for another day.

    How to Live in the Shadow of Calamity - Ethan Richardson (Mockingbird)

    March 2020 newsletter - Robin Sloan

    The Convivial Society: Vol. 1, No 5 - Michael Sacasas

    Oh, and this bit from C.S. Lewis, which makes an appearance in all three:

    The war creates no absolutely new situation, it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal.

    A Public Space is doing an online book club/readalong of /War and Peace/. It’s 12 days and about 170 pages in. The daily readings are roughly 12-15 pages, which will bring the book club to an end in June, which seems to be appropriate timing. I never intended to read W&P, and I honestly decided to jump in as a way to discipline my mind in the morning, and keep me from the beckoning vortex of The News. I don’t have an opinion of it right now. Reading it is more enjoyable at certain times than others. But, I will say so far that Tolstoy is a keen observer of human motivation/behavior, and renders his characters with great psychological acuity. The small daily assignments allow me to read other books in parallel with this one, but so far I think I’m enjoying it more than I expected. Also, don’t listen to anyone who tells you to skip the “war” parts and just read the “peace” sections.

    an orchard of blooming peach trees with the mountains in the background beneath a cloudy sky

    Last weekend we visited Chiles peach orchard out near Crozet. The blossoming peach trees were a surreal sight.

    I’m also wearing shorts as I write this. Today is the first shorts days of 2020. Everything is blooming and pollen is everywhere and woe to those whose allergies require them to clear their throat with a cough. So far I’m really liking spring in Virginia.

    On the right is a pale ale from Reason Beer, which is about a 5 minute bike ride from our house. We rode over there today, where you can still purchase cans from the tasting room.

    As long as we’re allowed to be outside while maintaining responsible distance from people, we plan to do so. The city skatepark has been closed, so for now it looks like a lot of nature walks, bike rides, and neighborhood skating.

    I don’t want to remember this time and think all I did was be anxious and remain super informed in order to feel a sense of control, but I know that’s exactly what I’ll do if I’m not deliberate about it. Do what you need to do to remain physically and mentally healthy during this time, but please don’t expend either of those things by enriching those platforms and outlets whose business model parasitically rely on your misery. Read a book, write a thing, bake a cake, watch The Office again, or play Animal Crossing instead.

    This will not have the final word.


    Preparatory reading about Britain has been put on hold until we set a new date for the trip. In the meantime, I’m enjoying /The Difference Engine/ by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. I also finished the manuscript I mentioned in my previous entry, and all I can say is that I want more of it.


    Recent viewing includes The Man in the Iron Mask, Young Sherlock Holmes (on the Criterion Channel!), and The Godfather (Jen’s first viewing!).


    We enjoyed some Django Reinhardt recently.

    ASCII art + permadeath: The history of roguelike games

    Morning Prayer - Alan Jacobs

    Look Who’s Talking - Fr. Stephen Freeman

    Common Good Capitalism - An interview with Marco Rubio

    Jesus, Lead the Way - Neil Willard

    Christ Episcopal Church Morning Prayer service

  • Update 12

    I’m struggling to conjure some thoughts to share here today. The past couple of weeks feel like a bit of a blur. Jen’s in Texas this weekend, where I’ll be joining her this Wednesday.

    In the spirit of owning, rather than “renting” my music collection, I’m spending this morning importing CDs to my laptop and rebuilding my digital music collection. As I write this, I’m listening to “Sun Forest”, from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’s most recent album, Ghosteen. I’m astounded how, after countless listens, the album is still so profoundly moving. For those who missed it, I wrote some thoughts about the album here.

    I may have linked to it before, but I was inspired by this post to reclaim my music collection. I’m still tweaking things here and there. I liked the idea of putting all music in the Documents folder and syncing it with iCloud. Yes, it’s still in Apple’s walled garden, but as a colleague and I were discussing yesterday, it’s a walled garden that works very well. Eventually I’d like to host my collection on network attached storage and expose it for remote listening with Subsonic, but for now this arrangement works quite well.

    I still maintain a Spotify subscription, primarily as a way to sample artists whose work I might buy, but I’m finding Bandcamp’s streaming interface to be more intuitive and pleasant. I know my preference for owning music betrays me as being anything but a rational economic animal, especially when I have so many options available for a modest monthly fee through Spotify. The trouble is, I’m not convinced that the plethora of choice is necessarily beneficial, either for the listener or for the artists. The “curated” playlist and “artist radio” approach to listening seems perfectly catered to putting music on in the background, but therein lies my concern: our relationship to music becoming just another piece of ambient “content”, not a first order piece of human expression to which we give our attention. That’s not to say I never listen to music in the background; Charlottesville’s WNRN provides a fantastic stream of music curated by actual humans.

    Also, we have good evidence that Spotify is producing fake music, which is just…weirdly awful (apologies for linking to a tweet).

    A few weeks ago, I finally retired my iPhone 6S as it was in its death throes, and purchased an iPhone 11 pro. I’ve never been one to take pictures, but I’ve been so impressed with the camera that it almost feels like a waste not to take advantage of it.

    We’ve been trying to go on walks regularly in preparation for our journey along St. Cuthbert’s Way in a few months.

    Here’s one I snapped from walk through McIntire Park:

    McIntire Park path with a tree

    And a couple from a trek through one of the Monticello trails:

    Jen in the woods

    Robbie in the woods

    One of Jones:

    Jones the cat

    And one from a winery near Crozet we visited for a friend’s birthday:

    Winery near crozet with the mountains in the background

    I hope Ansel Adams would be proud.


    Finished The Gardens of the Moon. Currently plodding through Max Adams’s The King in the North: The Life and Times of Oswald of Northumbria in preparation for the Britain trip. I’m also reading the manuscript of a novel that a friend’s working on, and I have to say that I am truly excited for the finished product. I hope it finds a wide audience.


    Nothing in particular comes to mind, other than Abandoned and falling asleep to episodes of Star Trek TNG. I also want to watch the new season of Castlevania.


    I cannot stop listening to the new Cloudkicker album.

    What Happened to the Company That Raised Minimum Wage to $70k/yr?

    A Decade of Sore Winners

    Big data could yield big discoveries in archaeology, scholar says

  • Update 11

    I think I’ve more or less given up on the “weekly” commitment to posting here, though I’ll still try to maintain some consistency. This blog is meant to be fun, not a chore, and that’s all I have to say about the matter.

    I recently took up skateboarding again. The last time I skated was probably 6-7 years ago, and probably another 5-6 years before that since I had skated with any regularity. The other week Jen and I went for a walk around McIntire Park, where the city has installed a truly impressive skate park that’s as good as any, if not better than some, parks that we had in Orange County. It’s a concrete park that includes street and vert areas. The embedded video at the link showcases the street course, which is connected by a path to the vert section, which consists of various bowls, including a snake-run like component and a reconstructed kidney pool with tile beneath the coping.

    I was especially struck by the diversity of the park’s users. There were a fair number of teenagers, but also young kids and “older” skaters. I watched one man who was probably in his mid thirties attempting a backside maneuver (I can’t recall the names of the tricks like I once did) out of the most vertical section of the kidney pool. When I asked if he had any recommendations for a shop in the area, he suggested checking out StrangeHouse in Louisa if I wanted to purchase an old school deck shape, or one that “might have been popular back when” I skated. Of course, the now-standard popsicle shaped decks were dominant when I was younger, and I had a moment of “shit, how old do I look to this guy?”, but I appreciated his suggestion nonetheless.

    I have yet to take advantage of the park myself. All of my riding so far has just been in front of the house, just pushing, turning, and cruising. I’m approaching this like a complete beginner again, and it’s been a joy. No ollies or any sort of tricks yet, just becoming confident on the board, taking it slow. It’s been an experience of learning to feel comfortable in my body. It’s also a pretty powerful medicine to get me out of my head. When I stepped on the board for the first time, I felt a bliss I hadn’t felt in some time. My internal dialogue just went silent, all my attention focused on movement and environment. As a mindfulness “practice”, skateboarding can be surprisingly effective.

    I’ve been hesitant to write cultural commentary, particularly as it pertains to our political life, for some time. As Alan Jacobs put it, I’ve been experiencing “opionionlessness”. That could partially be due to my efforts in trying to break my headspace out of the news cycle. But I’d also attribute it to increasing frustration with the thought patterns that seem to dominate online discourse.

    I’m not just talking about “polarization” or the collapse of civility; troubling as those trends are, I think much of the talk around them glosses over the real pain and problems that fuel the anger many people are feeling. Rather, it’s the intellectual habits that characterize the most vocal and ideologically committed adherents of the left and the right. I’ve observed a reluctance, if not outright refusal, to entertain data or evidence that might complicate the story buttressing political ends. Conservative evangelical Christians, who frequently cite the Old Testament in support of various positions on social issues, seem to have all but forgotten the Levitical laws concerning treatment of the sojourner, or debt forgiveness, never mind Isaiah’s warning about “grinding the faces of the poor”. Similarly, the censoriousness and hyperbole displayed by the some on the left toward conservative speakers on university campuses, or those who would question the practice of “cancelling”, bespeaks a dogged commitment to ideology before all else.

    Before I go further, please don’t hear this as equivocation between the actions or ideas put forth by either side. “Both sides” are not equally at fault in some things (though neither should be immune to criticism). For all my dislike of ANTIFA, it was not one of their members who drove a car into a crowd of people on a street that I now walk by at least once a week. Nor do I think that certain notorious statues to Confederate generals should qualify as Civil War memorials, considering that they were built over 50 years after the war ended. (These examples are prominent in my mind since they’re relevant to the place I now call home). Expressed outrage can, in fact, sometimes be a commensurate response to something that is outrageous (though its effectiveness is another question). “A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it is”.

    I don’t know what I’d describe my politics as, except maybe left-of-center, politically homeless, with a strong distaste for partisan BS. My concern is for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the planet. I believe in personal responsibility insofar as you can help it. I believe people are more than units of labor, and they should be compensated well for any labor they perform. I believe we should extend a hand to, rather than kick, those who are down. I believe we need to acknowledge our limits and dependence on the natural world in order to survive and thrive. I think a strong, public safety net, and strong, public institutions, can be excellent ways to achieve these ends, but/and I’m open to the possibility that there are better ways.

    That was way more than I intended to write, and part of me still wants to delete it. I don’t want to deal with either Social Justice Twitter or MAGA Twitter, but thankfully I don’t deal with any Twitter (nor should you, really). I originally started writing this section to highlight two pieces that both exemplify the kind of social-political writing that I’d like to see more of, and speak to the habits of mind that I’ve been talking about. First, David French addresses “The Church’s Real Political Correctness Problem”. French has become one of my favorite political writers, not because I agree with him (much of the time I disagree), but because we share similar fundamental concerns, and because I’m forced to intelligently disagree. He’s not one to tout a MAGA hat while calling opponents snowflakes — he writes thoughtful, principled conservative arguments that are intellectually honest, and doesn’t hesitate to criticize those in his own camp. Second, Tara Isabella Burton tells us “What The Culture War Is Really About”. She poignantly distills the debate between “atavists and activists” to one about human nature. She unexpectedly turns her attention to the techno-optimism of Silicon Valley, especially toward the end of the piece, showing how the fundamental ontological disagreement lies not between the social justice warriors and Jordan Peterson fans, but between a worldview that acknowledges fundamental limits to reality and one that denies them. I feel like there’s more to engage with here, and as someone working in tech, I need to reflect on it more.

    This also might have been the first time I’ve ever typed “MAGA” twice in the same paragraph, and for that I’m deeply sorry.


    About to wrap up The Gardens of the Moon. A Mind for Numbers has been on a brief pause, mostly because Gardens is so enjoyable, but also because my learning capacity has been devoted to actually practicing the skills in the book while learning a lot of databases for work.


    I finished Watchmen last night, and would say it’s a worthy follow-up to the novel. I also binged four episodes of Abandoned with Rick McCrank, and I rarely binge shows. I expect to write more about it sometime soon.


    Getting in the mood for the Great Britain trip with Nettlebone. John Moreland’s LP5 has also been on repeat lately.

    American Paganism

    The Truly Common Core

    On Lawlessness and Understanding - The Gospel for Jews and Greeks

    Neal Unger - 60 Year Old Skateboarder

  • Update 10

    So I’ve really breached the “blog every week” commitment I made to myself. Two full weekends in a row and the cognitive load of the new job more than account for this, so I won’t belabor the point any longer.

    Both the technical work and the actual business domain of my new role are much more technically rigorous than anything I’ve done before. My old manager was fond of quoting Gene Kranz in Apollo 13: “Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make this worse by guessing.” That phrase has come in handy to me many times the past few weeks. Writing raw SQL forces you to face the complexity that Rails’s ActiveRecord ORM conceals from you. Because I’m unsure of the nature of the NDA in my employment contract, I won’t discuss the actual content of the data, but suffice it to say that it’s much more mathematical in nature than anything I’ve worked with before.

    I never would have called myself a “math person” before, but programming is essentially algebra, and computer science, being the science of computation, is largely mathematical. So, given my choice of career, I’ve been plodding through Barbara Oakley’s A Mind For Numbers. Oakley’s book isn’t a high-level overview of math and science fundamentals, but rather a guide to developing the cognitive skills that help in learning said fundamentals, and beyond.

    Already, much of what she writes resonates with my experiences learning STEM-adjacent skills, both positive and negative. For instance, I’ve felt considerable frustration when “stuck” as I focused intensely on solving a problem or learning a new concept. My cognition was experiencing the “Einstellung effect”, rehearsing an erroneous pattern in the “focused mode”, when I needed to engage the “diffuse mode” by walking away and allowing my brain to think on something else, preferably something less rigorous. Sometimes the path to understanding means actually getting off the path.

    Fortunately for me, walking is a part of the company culture at Everactive. That time away from the desk and the screen has probably helped me on more than one occasion.

    About 10-11 years ago, I really enjoyed reading Donald Miller, and was somewhat captivated by the whole “emerging church” movement. Whether or not it could be properly called a “movement” is up for debate, as are the merits of it. But, it did seem to function as a precursor to the new trend of “ex-vangelicals”, “deconstruction”, and even “de-conversion”.

    I have a few thoughts about their similarities and differences; for instance, they both were quite online, and both mirrored the shift from blogs/forums to centralized social networks. I feel like this is worth exploring at some point, and probably deserves its own post.

    But another subtle shift I noticed was in the movements’ attitude towards politics. A common critique of evangelicalism was that it was too political. Memories of the Left Behind books, the Bush administration, and the religious right loomed large in everyone’s mind. But now, the critique made by more “progressive” Christians is that many of their more conservative or moderate counterparts are not political enough.

    My account of things may be somewhat reductive, but it’s a thread I feel is worth pulling on. I have my own thoughts about how Christians should approach political involvement/activism, but those are for another post. More than anything, I’m interested in the shift in attitude, and how it relates to the shift in online engagement.

    I’m not totally sure what my thoughts are, but hopefully the foregoing notes will serve as a big fat TODO on this blog’s homepage.


    Aside from A Mind For Numbers, I’ve been enjoying Steven Erickson’s The Gardens of the Moon, the first book in his series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen.


    Jen and I purchased tickets for a trip to the UK(!) at the end of May, so we’ve been watching videos of Rick Steves travel around the island, as well as documentaries about ancient Britain.


    Pyroclasts by SUNN O))) was on heavy rotation at work this week, and I finally brought myself to order the vinyl so I can subject Jen to ceaseless droning guitar sounds.

    Prepper Style Music Hoarding

    Against Identity, or By the Grace of God I Am What I Am

    Being a Noob

    So you think you can be a reality TV producer

    Paul, Patriarchy, and the #MeToo Movement

  • Update 9

    Week 2 of the new position was a success, I’d say. Feeling more productive and contributing to the team’s efforts. Coming from the Ruby/Rails world, I’ve had to make a lot of major adjustments, especially working with Go. You write a lot more boilerplate code when working without a framework, and that’s doubly true when working with a small, statically typed, compiled language like Go. I definitely experienced some frustration when trying to cast a request body of unstructured JSON into a map, but it’s forced me to think more reflectively about what the computer actually does with the code I write.

    My parents gifted me a new record player for Christmas. We gave or sold our old one prior to moving, and I missed it considerably. That said, it was a Crosley that I’ve owned since 2010/2011, and we were due for a change. I think I’ve listened to records more in the past week than I have in the last year. I’ve also discovered the joy of actually owning my music collection again, as opposed to renting it.

    Yes, I realize that a vinyl record with a download code sells for roughly twice the price of a subscription to any of the major streaming services, and I’m certainly privileged to even afford such a luxury. Nor will I begrudge anyone their thriftiness. But, if I really love an album and would like the artist to continue making things I like, I try to purchase it outright. And when I consider that I usually only listen to the same few albums on rotation on Apple Music anyway, the endless options provided by streaming services seem less and less compelling. I might be more prone to decision paralysis than others, but I’m finding limits, however self-imposed, to be a helpful thing.

    This piece over at Comment was one of those essays that crystalized something I’ve been intuiting for a while but struggled to put into words. If you’ve ever struggled with a desire to “do justice” while feeling wary of ideological commitment or tribalism, I heartily recommend it. This bit especially stuck with me:

    Building on the previous pair of habits, it seems essential to develop the Habit of Attention: Cultivating acute sensitivity to the moral texture of my surroundings.
    Such sensitivity seems to be able to be grown in local and concrete practices: halting myself in a moment of annoyance; spending my lunch hour with a painting or an afternoon with a homeless stranger; taking time from my phone and giving it to poetry; rejecting an ill-fitting promotion; letting nature or my family be an inconvenience; refusing to let a friendship drift away. Such concrete acts seem essential for pulling the soul back to its native tenderness. The grander habits of aspiration and apprenticeship need the fine-grained sensitivity of attention.

    The essentiality of “concrete acts” to cultivate our “native tenderness” cannot be understated. For the very-online, this is probably especially true. I can speak from experience the value of minimizing and de-tuning my internet. It’s a simple step toward greater attentiveness.


    Still going through Hyperion, but I also read an ARC of Christian Wiman’s forthcoming poetrycollection, Survival Is a Style. I meant to write a review, but realized I don’t really know how to write about poetry, other than to say that if you want to be deeply affected by language, give it a read.


    Sam Mendes’ 1917 might have been the best movie I’ve seen in the last 12 months. The plot is so so simple, but the power of the movie might be in its utter simplicity.


    I’m finally seeing Between the Buried and Me this April, so I listened to both The Parallax II: Full Sequence and The Great Misdirect on Friday. Here are samples of both, respectively.

    What the Death of iTunes Says About Our Digital Habits

    Bryan Stevenson interviewed by CT

    When Your Theology of Pain Is Painfully Bad - Mbird

    I went to see a movie, and instead I saw the future - Signal v. Noise

  • Update 8

    This is my first post since starting my new gig. I’ve learned a lot this week, and have much more to learn. Suffice it to say, I’m really excited to be working where am I, and I’m both exhausted and energized. I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this excited about programming and technology.

    I’ve also been fortunate to see some friends this week. On Friday, Jen and I serendipitously ran into some friends at Champion brewing, then saw some more at Lampo Pizza, and Saturday evening we had some other friends over for a delightful evening of dinner and conversation. One of our favorite things about living in Charlottesville is how easy it is to accidentally see people you know. Although it’s not a “small town” in any conventional sense, I regularly see friends and acquaintances out and about. Shopping, eating, drinking, and moving about the same places provides visible evidence that you’re part of a community. In California, I felt that I had community amongst a close group of friends, but it was probably in spite of the infrastructure of our lives, not because of it; in a typical day, you’ll work in one town, shop for groceries in another, and live in a third, driving at least twenty minutes to each.

    Of course, it doesn’t take much imagination to realize that spending a week learning a new domain, codebase, and programming language taxes one’s faculties. Unsurprisingly, I’m struggling to think of something to write about. I’m experiencing what Alan Jacobs recently called “opinionlessness”. He puts it well:

    At the moment I have fewer opinions that I have ever had in my life. When I see all the people online and in print giving advice and instructions and guidance, I think, Do these people really know all the stuff they think they know? By contrast, I seem to be moving asymptotically to the point of not believing that I can give anyone advice about anything at all.

    Again, the cognitive load of a new job certainly contributes to this, and it behooves me to devote most of my resources to that right now. But at the same time, I have had the nagging sense that it’s hard to produce quality writing for the internet that isn’t half-baked, even if it’s at a lower frequency than cycles of what Gordon White calls “insta-anxiety and twitter-derived-amygdala-damage”. The full context of that quote is worth reproducing here:

    Here’s my Capricorn season take on the return to blogging: It is what passes for a ‘return to the real’ in our post digital future. Which is to say the realisation that there is value in considered, researched, diligent content -as opposed to neurochemical fear/rage flares on social media- is exactly what we should expect right now. This is a fall to earth from the polluted, ephemeral skies of insta-anxiety and twitter-derived-amygdala-damage.

    I might not always have the energy on a weekly basis to produce something that’s considered, researched, and diligent, and that’s fine. The blog is a web_log_, which in its primary form is a simple chronicle. And I’d rather chronicle simplicity than forcing any pseudo-profundity.


    The Western Wind was fantastic, and highly recommended if you enjoyed either Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. The novel exists somewhere between the two. Currently reading Dan Simmons’ Hyperion.


    I watched Cats last Sunday, which you should only see if you have a theater subscription or are streaming it on $ServiceOfChoice. I feel like CGI should be made illegal after that movie, but damn if some of those songs aren’t catchy.


    I made my first record store trip since moving, to Sidetracks Music. I grabbed vinyls of Wilco’s Ode to Joy and Nick Cave’s Ghosteen, and a CD of Torche’s Admission.

    Your Bonhoeffer Moment - Note: I try to avoid explicit discussion surrounding our current commander-in-chief for a few reasons, but I think this article poignantly addresses a current phenomenon among evangelicals and brings one of my favorite theologians to bear on it.

    Ian McKellan’s 1999 Lord of the Rings Blog - I feel this needs no explanation.

  • Update 7

    And it’s the first update of 2020. I hope you had pleasant and safe New Year celebration. Jen and I were fortunate to have a few friends over and play some Jackbox games before watching the ball drop at midnight. When we lived in California, we could just watch the ball drop live in Times Square three hours ahead, and be in bed by 9:30. This was the first proper NYE party we were apart of in a few years (I believe the last one we attended was NYE 2016). 2017 we were in fact in Manhattan, but just to catch a movie with relatives (The Post). After that we took a nearly empty train back to New Jersey, walked back to my uncle’s house from the train station, and walked in the door at about midnight. 2018 we visited friends in Dallas and spent much of the day exploring the city, grabbing drinks in Fort Worth before returning home sometime around 10. Fun times, but it felt good to do something with friends again, and in our new home.

    In my last post, I mentioned that among all of the things that happened, we “started new jobs”. We moved to Charlottesville so Jenoa could be a College Minister with Christ Episcopal Church, while I continued working with W+R Studios. On Monday, however, I’ll begin a new job as an Engineer with Everactive, and industrial IoT startup. I’ll be a member the cloud team, and am excited for the new challenges I’ll get to work on. I mentioned in a previous post that I had been learning Go; this job was the reason. It’s a complete departure from Ruby-land, and a major change, but I’m excited for this opportunity to grow.

    I’ve always been kinda cynical about new year’s resolutions. That proclivity probably stems from an annoyance with what I perceive to be American culture’s widespread and near-religious zeal for optimization and self-improvement (what my friend David Zahl calls Seculosity).

    That said, I’ve been wanting to make a few changes in my life, and the start of 2020 seemed an appropriate time to do them. At high level, they are:

    1. Improve my flexibility. I can’t touch my toes, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been unable to sit cross-legged for any length of time without my feet falling asleep. I’m doing some basic stretches and yoga postures upon waking every morning, and I’m planning to start taking a weekly yoga class.

    2. Live less compulsively. I realized that I frequently operate from a sense that I must do something, rather than wanting to do it. Obviously, discipline is good, and sometimes I ought to do something regardless of my desire in that moment. But I do have compulsive tendencies — something I’m especially prone to because of my anxiety.

    One change I made in this area was to stop journaling every morning. While I still journal occasionally, I removed it from my daily routine. I found that the ritual was becoming a source of anxiety rather than a treatment for it.

    Another was to delete my Goodreads account. Reading, arguably my favorite hobby, felt like it was becoming a chore, and I was slogging my way through books that I didn’t necessarily enjoy. The book wouldn’t necessarily be bad, and I might even like it on another day, but it just wouldn’t be for me at the moment. I know many people have resolutions to read more; if so, I commend to you Austin Kleon’s thoughts on reading. I think that if I enjoy what I’m reading, I’ll want to read it more.

    As far as Goodreads is concerned, I think its main value is as a “to-read” list; I already keep a separate journal of books read. I now keep a to-read list as a text file in Bear, where a link can sit quietly without an app beckoning me to engage.

    Writing about an app “beckoning” sound ridiculous to me, but the truth is that I have limited willpower, and there’s a whole team of well-paid professionals on the other end whose job is figuring out how to undermine it. If I already have compulsive tendencies, that makes me especially vulnerable.

    1. Consume more mindfully. This point dovetails nicely with the previous one. I’ve mostly disappeared from social media. I have no Facebook. I removed the Instagram and Twitter apps from my phone. While I still maintain accounts there, they are mostly dormant, and it’s been weeks, if not months, since I’ve last logged in. I’m toying with exporting my photos from Instagram and setting up a separate photos feed here, so I can shut down my account entirely. I’m not even sure why I still maintain Twitter — I originally created it to syndicate links from this blog, something I haven’t done since last February.

    All that to say, despite my blogging, I’m probably not among the “very online”. Nonetheless, it’s still possible to feel inundated when you’re only subscribed to RSS feeds and newsletters. So, I’m limiting myself to reading two articles in Pocket per day, and periodically archiving all unread articles.

    Again, it feels ridiculous to write these things out — who cares whether or not I make my way through some nebulous digital “backlog”? But, for someone like me whose default behavior is to mindlessly consume, these deliberate decisions feel like a pretty big deal.

    The 2010s was a very online decade for many of us. Maybe, as Alan Jacobs hopes, the 2020s will be less online. I’d like more signal and less noise from my internet, and maybe that means turning down the volume considerably.

    Wow, that was way more than I originally planned to write. I didn’t even mention how I want to extend “consuming more mindfully” to food and other areas of life, but I suppose it’s not necessary. If you want to tune me out of your internet, I won’t hold it against you. Much.

    Onto our regularly scheduled programming.


    I’m taking a break from Fall. I desperately want to know how it ends, and while some parts of the book are fascinating, others are just a slog. I read Anthony Horowitz’s new James Bond novel Forever and a Day. Currently enjoying Samantha Harvey’s The Western Wind.


    Jen and I have been watching a number of movies. Recently, we viewed Psycho, The Postman, Rosemary’s Baby, Austin Powers, and The Little Hours.


    Nothing exciting this week unfortunately.

    How We’re Going Back To The Moon

    Having Kids - Paul Graham

    Strategies for Working with Message Queues

  • Update 6

    I spent the majority of last week traveling for the Christmas holiday and for mine and Jen’s birthdays. We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my Grandpa and some extended family in Connecticut. On the 26th (my birthday), we drove to New Jersey, dropped my car at a relative’s house, and took the train into Manhattan. We visited the Morgan Library & Museum, shopped at The Strand bookstore, and ate dinner at Cafe Altro Paradiso followed by drinks at King. On the 27th (Jen’s birthday) we ate breakfast at Kopitiam, visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, ate lunch at Gertie, and shopped around Williamsburg before returning to NJ to spend the evening and eat pizza with family. We returned to Cville on Saturday. I’m writing this on Monday, January 30th, the penultimate day of 2019. What a year it’s been.

    In my previous post, I enumerated all of the traveling the both of us have done this year. I continually find myself using the term “whirlwind” to describe it, and I suppose that’s appropriate. We packed up our lives, drove across a continent, set down roots in a new town, bought a house, dealt with loss and grief, made new friends, started new jobs, and traveled back and forth across aforementioned continent multiple times.

    And in the midst of the chaos, there is so much I am grateful for. I’m grateful for the new people and place that mark our lives. And I’m also grateful for the place we left, and the friends there that I’ll always cherish.

    And it’s the end of a decade. This was the decade that I started blogging, on a Blogger site buried under the detritus of the web. This was the decade in which I lived the most of my twenties. I feel like I’m supposed to reflect on the 2010s. There’s no shortage of thinkpieces about the cultural, political, economic, and technological changes of this decade, and I don’t feel I need to add to it here. Of course, I can think of the various ways my life intersected with said changes — working at a Borders bookstore when the chain closed its doors, using and leaving Facebook, learning programming and starting a career in software development, witnessing economic desperation, struggling with my evangelical faith, meeting my wife through online dating. But, when I think back on this decade, it’s the specific and the personal that I remember, not the general and the cultural. Much like this past year, this past decade gave me much to be grateful for. Of course, there are decisions that I regret, circumstances that I wish I could change. But if I could talk to newly-20 Robbie at the end of 2009, I’d tell him to be hopeful. And I think that’s what I needed most through my twenties - hope.

    I’m ending this one here this week. I’ve been enjoying a number of books, albums, shows, and games. I had some thoughts on goals and habits for the new year. I also considered writing out my favorite reads of 2020. But I’m deciding to save those for another post.

    Take care, friends. May you know the grace of God in surprising and wonderful new ways in 2020 and beyond.

  • Update 5

    Four entries in and I broke the weekly rhythm, hence the title change to “update”. Oh well.

    To be fair, last week was spent traveling to California for my W+R Studios’ year-end meetings/holiday party. I flew in on Tuesday the 10th. Meetings and work related events lasted until the morning of Friday the 13th. I got to spend the rest of Friday and all of Saturday seeing friends and catching up on Watchmen. I flew to DC on Sunday the 15th, where I met up with Jenoa. Spent much of Monday the 16th exploring DC, before taking the train back to Charlottesville that evening.

    I think I’ve travelled more this year than any other. Let’s see if I can get a comprehensive list:

    • January 3 — Fly back to CA after spending Christmas and New Year’s in Texas.
    • February 20—23 — Four days in Pasadena for an event at Fuller Seminary.
    • March 15-17 - Men’s retreat for church in Big Bear.
    • April 4-7 - Fly to Texas for four days to attend the Mockingbird Tyler conference. While there, Jen has preliminary talks about the College Minister position.
    • April 25-28 - Drive to and from Oakland for Jen’s friend’s wedding.
    • April 29-May 2 - Fly to Boise for RESO Spring Technology Summit. During this time, Jen is in Palm Springs for an education conference.
    • May 11-14 - Fly to Charlottesville for Jen’s interview at Christ Episcopal Church. She’s offered the position and accepts it on the last day of the trip.
    • May 24-27 - Drive to Crestline (near Big Bear) to stay with friends at a cabin for Memorial Day weekend.
    • June 17-19 - Much needed mini-vacation to Palm Springs. The first proper do-nothing vacation Jen and I had since our honeymoon.
    • July 13 - Day trip to Tijuana. Neither of us had ever been.
    • August 5-10 - Drive across the country from Rancho Santa Margarita, CA to Charlottesville, VA. Along the way we stay in Cloudcroft, NM; Glen Rose, TX; and Franklin, TN.
    • August 12-15 - I fly right back to California for the Product Team summit at work. Two days after I moved across the country. I’M NOT TIRED YOU’RE TIRED.
    • September 20-22 - Church retreat at Shrine Mont.
    • October 1-8 - Fly to Texas unexpectedly for Jen’s grandmother’s funeral.
    • October 15-21 - Fly to CA for Here We Still Stand and to see friends.
    • November 17-20 - Fly to Nashville for RubyConf.
    • December 10-15 - Fly to CA for W+R Studios year-end meetings.

      So, for seven out of twelve months this year I got on a plane, for a total of nine trips by flight. It could have been ten; I originally planned to fly back to CA to be in a wedding the week after the product team summit, but Jen wisely convinced me that that was going to be way more than I could handle. In the midst of all the traveling, we also said goodbye to close friends, bought a house, dealt with loss, hosted family for Thanksgiving, and Jen started a new job (at which she has been doing fantastic). We’ve been given amazing new friends, and moved to a town that we love. It’s been a whirlwind year filled with a range of emotions.

    That last trip will be the last one I take for some time. Much as I love seeing close friends, I’m also looking forward to not getting on a plane.

    In an odd way, I felt a peace when I left California last week. I’m accepting having both feet firmly planted in Virginia. Of course there will be trips back west, and some of the friends I have there could never be replaced. But it’s not home anymore. I’m writing this from Charlottesville, VA — my new home.


    Still plodding through Fall and Advent. I also picked up Paul’s Apocalyptic Gospel by J. Christiaan Beker from The Center for Christian Study’s library as a supplementary interlude to my reading of Advent. I’m also learning the Go programming language and making my way through The Little Go Book.


    Thanks to Collin, I’m mostly caught up with Watchmen. Just need to watch that finale. Jen is also trying to get me hooked on Mad Men and it might be working.


    I told a friend of mine that I wanted to get into choral music. He recommended the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. Their Best Loved Hymns kept me company on the turbulent flight out to California. Also thankful for Penguin Cafe’s Handfuls of Night and City and Colour’s A Pill for Loneliness.

    10 Best TV Shows of 2019, I’m Assuming - A list from a friend. If you read no other year-end listicle, at least read this one.

    “A Word That Would Light Up The Night”: Listening to Nick Cave’s Ghosteen in Advent - Mockingbird was kind enough syndicate this piece I wrote here a couple weeks ago.

    A Primer for Staying Married at Christmas - I know, a lot of Mbird, this week, but some wise advice here.

    on not owning my turf - Good reminder from Alan Jacobs.

    futurity: an Advent thought - More advice reflections, this time from the aforementioned AJ.

    Please for the love of Blarg, Start a Blog - A blogging jeremiad from Jay Springett

  • Weekly Update 04

    So I’m a day late on this one, but I did publish a thing yesterday, that the good people at Mbird will also be publishing on their space sometime early next week.

    This week has mostly been focused on buttoning up minor things at work before next week’s trip to California for year end meetings. I’m also staying a couple extra nights to see some friends.

    J. and I spent much of today making some much needed furniture purchases. Thank God for Cville’s Habitat for Humanity Store and Circa. I honestly never imagined that purchasing high quality furniture could be such an affordable and accessible experience. Friends, if you have a Habitat store or any sort of used furniture store, seek it out. I promise you, you are not damned to an endless cycle of particle board and opaque instructions from big box stores for the rest of your life. And, surprisingly, we’ve been able to make purchases that cost little more than what you’d find at said big box stores, and I think we’ll need to make fewer purchases in the long run.


    Still working my way through Neal Stephenson’s Fall; or, Dodge in Hell and Fleming Rutledge’s Advent. Stephenson’s novel touches on the eschatological in such a clever way that I never would have expected from an almost satirical sci-fi novel. I’m still forming thoughts about it, but there’s likely a dedicated post in me that I’ll write once I’ve finished reading it.


    Last night we watched Prospect, an indie sci-fi film that was surprisingly good. The plot is a straightforward survival story, but the world was fascinating and immersive. It felt like a small glimpse of a large narrative universe. My only complaint is that there was so much left unaddressed about the world, that it almost felt like a film was the worst medium to employ this setting. Nonetheless, I’d recommend it.


    Finally listening to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’s Ghosteen. Beyond what I said in the aforementioned post, I have nothing more other than an admonition for you to listen.

    The Weight of Advent: Speak What You Feel, Not What You Ought to Say - Ian at Mockingbird

    The 8 Requirements of Real-Time Stream Processing — For any programming nerds out there, this was really interesting, especially given that it was written in 2005. Also see The Morning Paper’s summary.

  • “A word that would light up the night” - Listening to Nick Cave’s “Ghosteen” in Advent

    As a relative newcomer to the Anglican tradition, Advent’s significance as a season, while not totally unfamiliar, has been welcome and refreshing. I also deeply appreciate a phrase I read in various places that seems popular in Anglican circles: “All may, some should, none must”. It’s a principle that, at first glance, seems to respect individual conscience and, dare I say, the diversity of Christian experience.

    That said, it’s also been strange to see the contentiousness that the faithful sometimes bring to this season. Some admonish personal observance of this part of the liturgical calendar as form of resistance to the relentless commercialization of our broader culture, while self-described “Advent snobs” are making an effort to repent of their pretensions and urging us to break out the Kenny G records post-haste in opposition to the bleakness of our news cycles and political polarization.

    Coming from a church background where Advent is merely the weeks leading up to Christmas (and we listened to a lot of Kenny G), there’s no shortage of Advent hymns I’ve never been exposed to. That said, when I finally gave a listen to Ghosteen, the most recent album from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, I didn’t expect to find an expression of longing and hope in the midst of darkness so potent, that you could almost call it an Advent album.

    Written wholly in the years since the tragic death of Nick Cave’s son in 2015, the album feels equal parts hopeful and haunted. In the first track’s outro, “Spinning Song”, Cave repeats these words,

    “Peace will come, a peace will come, a peace will come in time
    A time will come, a time will come, a time will come for us”

    Which leads into the second track, “Bright Horses”, where he sings in the second verse,

    “And everyone has a heart and it’s calling for something
    And we’re all so sick and tired of seeing things as they are
    And horses are just horses and their manes aren’t full of fire
    The fields are just fields and there ain’t no Lord
    And everyone is hidden, and everyone is cruel
    And there’s no shortage of tyrants and no shortage of fools
    And the little white shape dancing at the end of the hall
    Is just a wish that time can’t dissolve at all”

    Cave’s lyrics express the longing of every heart that feels sick and tired, that is discontent with the world as it is. We hide our true selves and show cruelty to one another. Tyrants and fools dominant our public and private lives. And what is the “little white shape” that dances? According to one review), the suffix “-een” in “Ghosteen” is an anglicization of an Irish expression denoting “something small, but also something benevolent.” References to ghosts and spirits permeate the record. Perhaps we could infer that the “little white shape” is the ghost of his lost son, whose absence is almost felt as a presence that cannot be taken away. It’s a bleak image of this present darkness.

    But as the melody turns back to the instrumental refrain of the song’s opening,

    “Oh, this world is plain to see
    It don’t mean we can’t believe in something
    And anyway, my baby’s coming back now on the next train
    I can hear the whistle blowin’, I can hear the mighty roar
    I can hear the horses prancing in the pastures of the Lord
    Oh, the train is coming, and I’m standing here to see
    And it’s bringing my baby right back to me
    Well, there are some things that are hard to explain
    But my baby’s coming home now on the 5:30 train“

    Despite the plainness of our world and its apparent brokenness, we can still have hope. We await a better world, that comes with a “mighty roar”. And the fields which seem barren of divine presence are in truth the “pastures of the Lord.” And the speaker’s baby is returning, and the speaker watches for this train.

    Or consider the second verse of “Sun Forest”:

    “And a man called Jesus, He promised He would leave us
    With a word that would light up the night, oh, the night
    But the stars hang from threads and blink off one by one
    And it isn’t any fun, no, it isn’t any fun
    To be standing here alone with nowhere to be
    With a man mad with grief and on each side a thief
    And everybody hanging from a tree, from a tree
    And everybody hanging from a tree”

    Admittedly, I’ve overlooked some passages from these songs, to say nothing of the entire songs I’ve neglected to explore. I know nothing of Cave’s spiritual inclinations, and I don’t presume to impute any intending religious meaning to the album. To appropriate Cave’s creation to make a theological point without honoring the grief and sorrow along with the wonder and joy therein would be to do violence to his work. I commend it to you regardless of any spiritual significance I might find in it. But I also believe his words, regardless of their intent, are a profound example of the emotions and experiences to which the season of Advent is addressed.

    And I also think Cave’s words are worth considering when we encounter the push and pull of controversies around the observance of Advent. Such debates can sound like mere dogmatic infighting to those listening who simply need the promise the season offers. To people “sick and tired of seeing things as they are”, liturgical debates as such can ring hollow, and risk rendering abstract the true comfort in the story they’re fighting over.

    For one grappling with loss, or frustration at the tyrants in the world, Advent opens a space in which to lament, and to yearn, for a better world and a “word that would light up the night.” While the “Advent police” can seem severe, there is also a deep grace in allowing the church, whose expressions can devolve into sentimentalized joy or exacting demands for personal improvement, to be a place that acknowledges and embraces the grief and longing many feel.

    I’m unsure how to end this, other than to say regardless of how we observe the season, let it be in a manner that reflects the grace given to us. The word that lights up the night came from the man who was mad with grief as he hung from a tree: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do”. Let us not forsake others in their grief and madness. We have been given a word to share with the world. And that word always lights up the night.

  • Weekly Update 03

    This is the first entry that’s testing the fortitude of my commitment to regularly publishing here. It’s been a hectic week — good, but hectic. Much to process, and much of it to be thankful for. Time spent with family. A caring church. New opportunities. Lots of food. These entries have so far leaned heavily on diary entries and synthesized them, but the demands on my time and will this past week have left me with 0 entries to glean from, so this’ll be a shorter one.


    I had the bright idea of starting Neal Stephenson’s Fall; or, Dodge in Hell and Fleming Rutledge’s Advent in the same week. Both are fairly hefty. I also tore through the third volume of Jeff Lemire’s Black Hamer today. I’ve been dipping into Faith Once Delivered, a collection of sermons from our Rector, Paul N. Walker.

    My reading habits are fairly erratic.


    Thankful for Disney+, as it allowed us to watch Home Alone 2 this week.


    Gave Common’s Let Love another spin this week and it has yet to disappoint.

    Not much internet reading this week.

  • Weekly Update 02

    I spent the bulk of this past week in Nashville for RubyConf. I arrived late Sunday night, and flew home Wednesday afternoon. Having attended RailsConf for two years, my coworkers and I decided to mix things up this year and check out RubyConf instead. As much as I’ve enjoyed RailsConf, RubyConf proved to be a refreshing experience. There was much discussion around the Ruby language with little reference to the Rails framework. In my experience, RailsConf tended to be high-level discussions of various technologies and how they can be integrated into Ruby on Rails. RubyConf, on the other hand, while still having a fair number of talks that touched more on the “soft skills” (we need a better term for those), also consisted of more technical deep-dives.

    Warning: technical babble follows

    For example, I learned that, depending on the data structure you’re working with, writing to disk can actually be faster than writing to memory. How so? Turns out, when a program writes to a file (e.g. with something like File.new), Ruby actually delegates the file-saving task to the operating system, which then queues up the task to do later. Now, in something like a database, where you don’t want to lose any data if your program crashes, writing to disk occurs immediately. But, in Ruby’s case, writing to “disk” is in effect writing to memory, and proves to be more efficient. The talk explains the details much better than I could. End technical babble

    Avdi Grimm shared about some painful personal experiences and how they might be applied to both life and software systems. If you don’t follow Avdi’s newsletter, I highly recommend subscribing. His denunciation of transactional thinking and incisive examination of our achievement-obsessed/goal-oriented culture was nearly biblical.

    Colin Fulton actually got a Ruby implementation to run on an Apple II. They also put their slides on a floppy disk, which ran on a physical Apple II machine on stage.

    Sandi Metz’s keynote about how lucky we were to be at that conference was damn near prophetic. Her call for all present to use their skills and knowledge for good and to address systemic injustices was inspiring.

    Finally, my manager, Jon Druse, gave a talk!. He discussed how poor processes, cutting corners, and complex legacy systems led to “the worst catastrophe” of his career. Having been present for said catastrophe, I can attest to how painful and powerful a learning experience it was for our team.

    I’ll be sure share links to these talks once they’re posted.

    By the end of this year, I will have traveled five times since August alone. Some of it has been fun, some of it less so. I’m pondering travel for next year. Jen and I are committing to more fun, and less obligation. That might mean dialing back the conferences.

    It’s strange how the web has shaped my habits and expectations. The other day I was irked to discover that if I wanted to subscribe to more than 100 RSS feeds with The Old Reader, I would have to upgrade to a paid subscription. Similarly, I was surprised that Feedbin also charges (something that shouldn’t have been surprising). My new RSS reader of choice, NetNewsWire, only currently offers syncing with Feedbin. While NNW is open source and free to use, syncing services cost money to operate. I realized that the “closed web” (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, et. al.) has so accustomed me to paying with my data and not my money that I simply expected a similar arrangement from everyone else.

    RSS is an open web technology, and there are many ways to consume RSS feeds without paying a single dime. But syncing between devices is a service that is not trivial to implement, and requires labor. That labor must be compensated.

    Perhaps the first step to “fixing” the web is accepting that we need to pay for its benefits, and perhaps that means enjoying fewer benefits. Perhaps we could all use some subtraction of “content” in our lives.


    I finished Marilynne Robinson’s /What Are We Doing Here?/ on the plane to Nashville. Her love for the Puritans almost makes me want to love them too.

    I’m also tearing through David Koepp’s Cold Storage. Really enjoying this one.


    Disney+’s The Imagineering Story is making me miss Disneyland, and leaves me wondering if I want to start a new career as an Imagineer.


    The most recent Ultima Thule podcast provided soothing soundscapes for the return flight.

    Not much internet reading this week, but I commend to you David Zahl’s foreword to a collection of sermons by our church’s Rector, Paul N. Walker.

  • Weekly Update 01

    Given the fact that I flew to California and Texas for two separate trips AND bought a house in the time since the last post, I think the gap of nearly three months is perfectly acceptable, which yes I know is a very familiar refrain of mine. Of course, it’s not like anyone’s monitoring this space. So, hi.

    I may be taking a risk by assigning a frequency and sequence to this post’s title, but it’s also arguably a healthy motivator since it’ll create an artificial sense of shame if I miss an entry. The name for these posts (“Weekly Update”) is a work in progress.

    That said, I do think there’s wisdom preemptively collating work that doesn’t exist yet. So, in the spirit of Jay Springett’s blog, I’m publicly committing to a consistent series of blog entries. Let’s try this for at least a year and see where it goes. I’m unsure what form it will take, but I’ll take some cues from Springett’s posts and start there.

    I’ve been meaning to write, and I actually have written too. But I also have a poor habit of not finishing things. I completed a rough draft of what turned out to be a short story for children (I think?), but have yet to type it up and give it a proper revision. I’ve also begun a few essays but not completed them. I’ve been writing these by hand in a notebook, and I’m ambivalent about the results. I struggle with momentum on unfinished things. Maybe handwriting, rather than typing is to blame? Or maybe I’m just externalizing my own propensity for procrastination onto superficial issues around process? I don’t think I need to write every day – I think such a demand is unreasonable for most adults with other full-time responsibilities Jeff Vandermeer will back me up on this. But, I do think some consistency is in order. And perhaps forcing myself to put unpolished things out in the world will help me maintain the habit.

    So, here’s to good habits.

    I spent last weekend in Washington DC and Annapolis. We stayed with my Aunt and Uncle in DC. On Saturday we visited with my parents, who finally made a move from southern California to Annapolis, MD. We ate some fantastic barbecue, crab cakes, and Italian food.

    I had the opportunity to facilitate the 20s/30s Bible study at our church Tuesday evening. I can’t remember the last time I prepped and formally facilitated discussion around spiritual matters. Maybe ten years? I shudder to think what 18 year old Robbie would have subjected fellow students of holy writ to. I think this week actually went quite well. Hopefully everyone else felt the same.


    I’ve read a few books since the last post. Some highlights include Jemar Tisby’s /The Color of Compromise/ and /Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories/ by Emily B. Cataneo.

    I also David Bentley Hart’s /That All Shall Be Saved/, which is causing quite a stir in some circles. I think many of the negative reviews fail to substantively engage with the book’s arguments, and focus instead on Hart’s acerbic tone. Personally, I found his thesis compelling, but I wish he had engaged more with the relevant scriptural passages, rather than devoting just one chapter to it. Of course, being a philosopher, it makes sense that the bulk of his work is concerned with philosophical, rather than exegetical, questions. I also think his pugnacious tendencies and self-assured tone, while amusing, made the book a missed opportunity. Hart admits he expects to persuade no one – that those who disagree with him will persist in their disagreement, and those who agree with him, vice versa. While I think Hart’s arguments were compelling to someone like me who’s open to the book’s thesis, but not thoroughly convinced at the time of reading, I also think that it could have been equally off-putting. I believe in addressing “final things” (and any weighty topic, really) with some reverence and humility. Maybe that’s just my fragile disposition coming through. My argument against his tone is mainly pragmatic though; the substance of his argument deserves serious consideration, and I’d commend the book to anyone.

    I’m about two-thirds of the way through Marilynne Robinson’s essay collection /What Are We Doing Here?/. I’m enjoying the way she winsomely and incisively interrogates unexamined cultural assumptions about economics, history, theology, and humanity.


    I’ve seen the first two episodes of Watchmen. I think it’s a sequel to the book? Friends have said episode three is particularly noteworthy.

    I signed up for Disney+ and watched the first episode of The Mandalorian. It immediately evokes memories of Firefly and carries the atmosphere and tone of a “space western”. It’s a deep-dive into an area of the Star Wars universe that, until now, we’ve only seen the surface of. For me, it’s some of the most enjoyable television I’ve watched in a while.


    /The World Is A Bell/ by The Leaf Library, TOOL’s /Fear Inoculum/(finally!), and IDLES’ /Joy as an Act of Resistance/ have been on rotation lately.

  • In Cville

    So, Jenoa and I moved. I’m writing this from Charlottesville, VA. We made it.

    We drove the whole way, taking a total of 5 days and logging more than 2000 miles and over 40 hours of drive time. We watched the landscape change from from high-desert, to mountains, to plains, to hills, to dense forests. We stayed in New Mexico, two nights in Texas, and one night in Tennessee before arriving in Cville. We also swam in a river.

    I got to enjoy Charlottesville for two days before having to fly right back to Orange County for my company’s product team summit. That was a fun trip. I even got to see my best friend.

    Surprisingly, this place has already begun to feel like home. When I flew into John Wayne Airport, it felt like I was visiting, not returning. It felt normal to tell myself, “Orange County is not my home anymore”. And when I returned to Virginia four days later, it felt like coming home.

    There are moments when I miss my close friends. Really miss them. Today marks the third Wing Wednesday I’ll be absent from. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad. And I really wish I had them here with me.

    And at the same time, people here have been more than welcoming. We’ve already had a game night. Jenoa’s begun her job and is excited to start regularly meeting with students. I feel like I have less stress and more time. Charlottesville, in many ways, feels like my ideal place to live. There’s a lot to be grateful for.

    It’s sometimes unsettling to experience grief and gratitude in equal measure. But I suppose the grief is also an extension of gratitude – gratitude for having such good friends that I’m sad to no longer have them in close proximity. And the grief does not erase the gratitude for the new place and people that have entered my life.

    All is grace.

  • June 2019 Update

    It feels like periodically I write these “it’s been a while, but been really busy and all you know how it goes” posts. That said, I feel like there’s some justification for the silence over the last few months.

    If you haven’t heard, Jen and I will be moving to Charlottesville, VA, where she’s accepted a role as College Grounds Minister at Christ Episcopal Church. Excitement and anxiety and sadness and joy and wonder have ensued.

    For the last 18 years, Orange County has been my home. My deepest friendships are here, and I intend for them to persist regardless of the distance. Despite my complaints about it, this place will always be part of me. I speculated about moving to Cville to attend UVA for grad school at one time, but that possibility was precluded when I decided to pursue programming instead of academia. Funny how things work out.

    Ergo, this space has been quiet. I’ve had fits and starts of ideas, moments of “oh I should write that down”, but other matters take priority. For the next couple of months, my focus will be on enjoying valuable time with friends, packing, planning, and resting where I can. It’s a forced break from pseudo-profound thoughts, which I’m perfectly content with.

    As to what will become of this blog, I’m not entirely sure. I intend to keep it around and will complete the redesign I last touched in early May according to git log. If I have to guess, the content will become more eclectic, focusing more on life updates than reflections on what’s going on “out there”.

    That said, life hasn’t completely stopped. Jen recently shared some highlights, and here are a few of my own:

    • Took a much needed vacation to Ace Hotel in Palm Springs. We’ve traveled quite a bit as a couple, but not since our honeymoon had we taken a true sit-by-a-pool-eat-drink-do-nothing vacation. This trip was a corrective to that.
    • I’ve poked around with this “course” from Gregory Brown’s Practicing Ruby that I stumbled upon. It’s focused on using Ruby to implement low-level tools and Unix programs that are usually abstracted away for us in day-to-day development.
    • I’m enjoying video games again. My brother in law introduced me to Wargroove. Having never played a tactical RPG, it’s been a refreshing and fun experience.
    • After punting on it for years, I finally read Frank Herberts Dune. Worth every moment spent reading it. I’m still astounded by how Herbert balances page-turning action with philosophical/ecological/political/theological reflection. Other reading highlights include Diogenes Allen’s Theology for a Troubled Believer and Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing.
    • I’ve fallen back in love with music. That feels strange to say, but I realized that I had been listening to a glut of podcasts and audiobooks, but was mostly unaware of what music had been released over the last year and half. Lately, I’ve been enjoying Thrice’s Palms - Deeper Wells, Hundred Acres from S. Carey, Son of Cloud, and the new singles from Alexisonfire and City and Colour (Dallas Green’s output is impressive to say the least).

    That covers things for now. I’m sure there’ll be more to share soon. Take care.


  • The Good Enough To Shame the Great

    In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, Avram Alpert writes,

    Ideals of greatness cut across the American political spectrum. Supporters of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” and believers in Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” for instance, may find themselves at odds, but their differences lie in the vision of what constitutes greatness, not whether greatness itself is a worthy goal. In both cases — and in most any iteration of America’s idea of itself — it is.

    The desire for greatness also unites the diverse philosophical camps of Western ethics. Aristotle called for practicing the highest virtue. Kant believed in an ethical rule so stringent not even he thought it was achievable by mortals. Bentham’s utilitarianism is about maximizing happiness. Marx sought the great world for all. Modern-day libertarians will stop at nothing to increase personal freedom and profit. These differences surely matter, but while the definition of greatness changes, greatness itself is sought by each in his own way.

    Alpert contrasts the foregoing philosophies with a philosophy of “good-enough” — a worldview that embraces the banal and the everyday. Rather than striving after greatness, he argues, we should strive “not to make the perfect human society, but rather a good enough world in which each of us has sufficient (but never too many) resources to handle our encounters with the inevitable sufferings of a world full of chance and complexity.”

    To my ears, embracing limitations and accepting “inevitable sufferings” pretty near echoes a theology of the cross — theology which seeks to know God as he’s revealed and present in Christ’s suffering, and, by extension, our own. Just as he suffered on a commonplace instrument of torture, so God embraces the “the inevitable sufferings of a world full of chance and complexity”. In contrast to our desire for greatness, St. Paul writes,

    Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. (1 Cor. 1:26-28)

    He chose what wasn’t even good to shame what is great (or, what we might call “great’).

    But the mere recognition that I ought to be content with a “good-enough” world doesn’t guarantee that I will be. Although the stated goal isn’t the “perfect” human society, “sufficient (but never too many) resources” sounds suspiciously near perfect to me. “Good enough” can mean different things to different people — and can become another law that will invariably reveal how we’re falling short.

    That’s not to say that striving to improve our local or global neighbors’ circumstances is vanity. Arguably, working to alleviate suffering is one of the primary ways Christ’ manifests his workmanship in us (Eph. 2:10). But at a personal level, I’d argue even our attempts to embrace good-enough-ness can lead us to strive after our own greatness. While we may indeed find good-enough solutions to social and economic problems, to bring justice and peace in some way “on earth as it is heaven,” we can still find ourselves asking who will be greatest in the kingdom (Matt. 18:1). If we are Christ’s workmanship, and our good works are prepared for us beforehand, then any “good-enoughness” we might add to the world is in spite of our nothingness and not-so-greatness.

    I assert great-or-good-enoughness and I am brought to nothing. I wax semi-knowledgeable about how to fix California’s homeless crisis, but I don’t even make eye contact with the regular vagrants near my office. I say people who worry about money should just learn to budget, but an underestimated electric bill triggers an anxiety attack. I start the workday determined to complete a litany of tasks and prove my technical prowess, and a bug in one overlooked line of code consumes my whole afternoon.

    Thankfully, it is in my nothingness that I am given something — the grace of God, who “is the source of [my] life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). The Son of Man “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28), including not-so-great servants.

    Despite my feigned greatness, God’s mercy is more than good enough.

  • Messages In Bottles

    For those who know me, it’s no secret that I’m averse to social media and its black-box network effects. I think that much of the web as we currently experience it falls far short of its potential for meaningful and thoughtful communication.

    But I’m not here to belabor that point either. Despite platforms that manipulate attention, monetize surveillance, and design addictive interfaces, the web is also host to a lot of great thought and creativity.

    Warren Ellis has been credited in various places as saying “The Republic of Newsletters and the Isles of Blogging, my friend. That’s what’s left. Messages in bottles from hermit caves by the sea.” (I remember reading the original instance of the quote in one of his newsletters, but it is now lost to the abyss of deleted emails).

    It’s fascinating to see the network effects of the Isles and the Republic over time. For example, author Robin Sloan’s newsletter from a week ago quoted a recent entry of Ellis’s newsletters in which Ellis wrote,

    Something else for my to-do list is to retune my internet. I’ve been taking five minutes here and there, but I need to give it a couple of hours soon. Here are the rules. Facebook is for misery, so don’t use it, at all. Twitter is for news, so just read it. Instagram is for joy, for as long as Instagram lasts, so filter it well. RSS is for information, good writing, music and the Isles of Blogging.

    I like the spirit of “retuning your internet.” I could never handle Twitter for news (I limit it to begrudgingly syndicating links to my blog), and Instagram is for liking my wife’s photos when I look at it once a week. His description of RSS resonates with my use of it, and newsletters also.

    The Isles and the Republic are great ways to see how seemingly disparate thoughts and thinkers make their way to each other across ideological and disciplinary distances. For example, Alan Jacobs, a professor of Humanities at Baylor University whose work has received blurbs from /The Paris Review/ and /The Atlantic/ but also /Christianity Today/ and The Gospel Coalition (look at the reviews), has on multiple occasions cited Ellis on his own blog. Jacobs also happens to interact with Robin Sloan. And Austin Kleon, a “writer who draws”, is also acquainted with Jacobs and Sloan credits Kleon in his newsletter as turning him on to the aforementioned Warren Ellis quote.

    So we have a British comics/screen /prose writer with futuristic interests, a Christian humanities professor who’s respected by both evangelicals and secular literati, a bay area author of magical realistic novels, and an writer /artist who meditates on creativity, all drawing inspiration from and riffing on each other’s thoughts (the one exception might be Ellis, whom I’ve only read referencing Sloan).

    The early days of the web encouraged an optimism among many that it would catalyze mutual comprehension among people of differing ideologies, disciplines, and backgrounds, and foster greater empathy amongst its users. While that outcome seems more the exception than the rule, the messages in bottles passed between the Isles can carry messages from people whose interests and convictions might differ wildly from our own. Right now, the Isles and the Republic seem to be the closest thing to the lofty vision of the web’s early enthusiasts. To paraphrase Alan Jacobs in How To Think, the value in these communications isn’t that they come from people who are like-minded, but like-hearted — hearts that seek to understand and to share the good they have with the world.

  • Favorite Reads of 2018

    I read a number of books this year, and as seems customary, I’ll share a few highlights. Since I’m traveling and don’t have my reading journal on hand, I’m sure I’m overlooking some. Nonetheless, here are a few that immediately spring to mind.

    The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis — Alan Jacobs

    Alan Jacobs explores the works of Simone Weil, C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and Jacques Maritain and examines how they addressed the possibilities and pitfalls of developing post-war society. He (and his subjects) provide a perspective that could give our accelerationist, technocratic, post-everything culture some much needed guidance and wisdom.

    Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation — Joseph J. Ellis

    Joseph J. Ellis examines a few events in the lives of the Founding Fathers during America’s formative post-revolution years. The fact that political polarization is nothing new is equal parts troubling and comforting.

    The Inner Voice of Love - Henri Nouwen

    The meditations in The Inner Voice of Love is a series of journal entries written by Henri Nouwen direct an intense period of depression and spiritual darkness. It’s a beautiful and moving account of seeking wisdom and hope in the midst of doubt and despair.

    The Crucifixion - Fleming Rutledge

    I’ve already written a brief post about this one, but I’ll reiterate its significant by including it on this list. Suffice it to say, this tome is more than worth your time if you’d like an expansive understanding the defining event of the Christian faith.

    The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien

    I read this book as an almost spiritual exercise. Hopefully I write a longer piece about it soon, but for now it will suffice to say that themes, motifs, and spirit of this classic proved their timelessness in my revisiting of it.

    I definitely see some thematic threads in my reading this year — hope, wisdom, perspective — and I strongly suspect they’ll continue into next year.

    Regardless of whether or not you celebrate or observe it, I pray the unconditional love and unreasonable hope that the Christmas story embody are known to you this season. Happy Christmas, friends.

  • Acrimony & Intimacy

    From Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers:

    The political dialogue within the highest echelon of the revolutionary generation was a decade-long shouting match.


    Politics, even at the highest level in the early republic, remained a face-to-face affair in which the contestants, even those who were locked in political battles to the death, were forced to negotiate the emotional affinities and shared intimacies produced by frequent personal interaction.

    I suppose there’s an odd comfort in knowing that our polarized political climate is not a complete novelty. I know I’ve employed “shouting match” to describe current discourse on more than one occasion. The latter quote encapsulates one of the reasons Ellis thinks the fledgling nation was able to survive despite the circumstances of the former. Perhaps it could be said that their intense political interest was also matched by intense personal interest in this political experiment, and because of the shared nature of their endeavor, there was some personal interest in one another.

    May our ideology always be subservient to our hospitality.

  • The Crucifixion

    So I finished Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion today, and, yeah. I felt like I should write something about it, but I fear it’s hard to do it justice.

    That said, I’ll take a stab at it. At the risk of hyperbole, Fleming Rutledge has written what might be the most important Christian text so far of the 21st century. It’s a substantial tome, clocking in at over 600 pages and dense with footnotes (surprisingly one of the best things about it). It’s the first book of its size that wasn’t a fantasy novel that I’ve read in a very long time. It also took a long time to read, but it was time well spent. And she brings her weighty subject to bear in a way that so effectively speaks to our moment by revealing its timelessness.

    I think what struck me most is the way she applies it to “the common plight of all humankind, for it is the one thing that binds us together”(582). As she puts it, “Above all, we must account for victims and perpetrators alike. If we cannot do this, then it is not the evangel“(577).

    The division, loneliness, suffering, injustice, and utter mercilessness that many people are experiencing right now does not need to be restated. But I think it warrants pointing out that those experiences transcend any dividing line we can conjure. Indeed, the very division that cuts right through all of us is what we have in common. And the action that heals, restores, forgives, and rectifies that division is common to us all too.

    Fleming Rutledge mends the cracks between differing perspectives in a way that’s a shadow of the real mending that she points too. Read and be healed.

  • SPAs, CORS, and GraphQL

    The popularity of single page applications (SPAs) has grown significantly in the world of web development over the last few years. As with any architectural choice, benefits and tradeoffs exist.

    This article from Free Code Camp recently highlighted a potential performance cost associated with single page applications. I’ll do my best to accurately and succinctly restate the problem presented in the article:

    Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS) is a mechanism that uses additional HTTP headers to tell a browser to let a web application running at one origin (domain) have permission to access selected resources from a server at a different origin. A web application makes a cross-origin HTTP request when it requests a resource that has a different origin (domain, protocol, and port) than its own origin.

    • CORS is not an issue when it’s a “simple request”, but does introduce problems when it’s a preflighted request.

    • Preflighted requests first send a request with the OPTIONS method prior to making the actual request for data. Because the value of the Content-Type header sent by an SPA is frequently application/json, requests from the SPA will be preflighted – mean that we make two requests each time we fetch data from the API.

    According to the article,

    We can use the Access-Control-Max-Age header to cache the results of a preflight request. The next time we access the resource api.example.com/users/report/12345 from spa.example.com there is no preflight request.

    Yes, that’s true, but then remember the title — The terrible performance cost of CORS requests on the single-page application (SPA). This comes from the API that we’re are consuming and the way it’s been designed. In our example, we designed our API /users/report/:id, where :id means its a value that can change.

    The way preflight cache works is per URL, not just the origin. This means that any change in the path (which includes query parameters) warrants another preflight request.

    So in our case, to access resource api.example.com/users/report/12345 and api.example.com/users/report/123987, it will trigger four requests from our SPA in total.

    The key sentence in the foregoing quote is “This comes from the API … and the way it’s been designed.” Enter GraphQL.

    Unlike a REST API, the URL for each request to a GraphQL API remains the same regardless of the resource. Instead, a query body is POSTed to the URL as JSON, and the resolution of the query is handled by the server.

    To work with the foregoing example, let’s say we have a GraphQL API residing at api.example.com/graphql. In order to get the report with an id of 12345, our SPA would make a preflighted request with the OPTIONS method to get the approved list of actions for api.example.com/graphql. It would then make a POST to the same URL with with following query body:

    query {
      users {
        report(id: "12345") {

    Our API would then handle the query and return the id and content for the report with an ID of 12345. While there are certainly some other improvements that can be made to the design of the API (for example, I would scope the query for a report to a given user, so our query body would say something like user(id: 1) instead of just users), the key strength of GraphQL in this example is that we only need to make one preflighted request if cache the results of the preflighted request with the Access-Control-Max-Age header, since all requests from our SPA can now be made to the same URL.

  • Further Thoughts on Simplicity

    Following up on the last post’s thoughts, I am finding myself more and more fascinated by the discipline of simplicity. I think it was in the most recent episode of the Renovare podcast that I heard it suggested that the discipline of simplicity isn’t so much a discipline we do as one we inhabit.

    Such a notion makes sense when I expand my understanding of simplicity to be both an active thing and passive thing. In one sense, I actively interrogate thoughts, patterns, and behaviors — deliberately asking if something distracts me from what truly matters. But in another sense, simplicity is ultimate passivity — it’s a disposition that is willing to sit and be patient, rather than try to fix everything. It’s admitting that I can’t control all circumstances.

    Oddly enough, there is increased freedom for more focused activity in this. It frees me to be more present whether having a cold drink with a friend, reading a book, or talking with my wife. Simplicity gives me permission to be present to these things because, in that moment, it’s not my responsibility to handle the other things, because Christ cares for them. This isn’t to say it’s permission to be flippant, but it’s permission to trust.

    As an anxious person, this is terrifying and freeing. The attitude of simplicity is something that does not come easily. Yet, the amazing thing about it is the truth that underlies it; The greatest simplicity of all is found in the knowledge that even my distracted and overloaded failures are taken care of.

  • Space and Simplicity

    Here are a few quotes/links from Alan Jacobs and Austin Kleon, who are frequently in dialogue with one another, that have set the tone for my thoughts this week about a few things — namely blogging, information, and thinking.

    re-setting my mental clock – Snakes and Ladders

    Curiously, though in a way logically, my escape from Twitter’s endless cycles of intermittent reinforcement and its semi-regular tsunamis has made me significantly calmer about my own future as a writer, in large part because it has re-set my mental clock. I have always told myself that I have time to think about what, if anything, I want to write next, but I haven’t really believed it, and I think that’s been due to my immersion in the time-frame of Twitter and other social media. Now that I’ve climbed out of that medium, I can give not merely notional but real assent to the truth that I have time, plenty of time, to think through what I might want to say.

    Ideas in cars, honking — Austin Kleon curates some thoughts on ideas and creativity from Dave Chappelle, Jerry Seinfeld, and Brian Eno

    the blog garden – Snakes and Ladders — Alan Jacobs posits the blog as a place to engage in the work of mental “gardening”.

    BONUS: Renovare podcast on simplicity with Jan Johnson — A discussion between Nathan Foster and Jan Johnson on a necessary but neglected (I speak for myself) spiritual discipline.

    The past couple of weeks have been somewhat turbulent, hence the silence on here. Arguably, I’ve made this excuse before, but I’m coming around to the acceptability of it. For some time I’ve guilted myself for not writing/blogging/creating with any real discipline. Outside of my 9-5 as a software engineer, I’m pretty terrible at Getting Things Done. I don’t have a content calendar, and most times I make a writing-related todo it ends up getting forwarded to the following day.

    I’ve tried to account for this frustration. I’d love to work on my idea for a fantasy novella with that brings together the tonal setting of dark ages Europe, the cosmology of H.P. Lovecraft, and the prose of Cormac McCarthy, just as much as it would bring me joy to regularly type out thinkpieces on spirituality and culture, all while working on programming side-projects for which I can write technical articles. Also, I really should be brushing up on my math skills if I’m ever gonna pursue that Master’s degree in CS.

    Simply put, I’ve felt burned out yet have hardly accomplished anything in regards to the above. And I think I’m okay with that.

    Jenoa pointed out that the only person putting pressure on me to do all of the things has been me. But that still doesn’t answer why I’ve imposed such demands on myself. I think, as Jacobs pointed out, that some of this stems from a need to reset my own mental clock — not necessarily from Twitter, but from the felt need to produce large volumes of quality creative work, especially work that’s germane to what everyone else seems to be talking about.

    Which connects to that episode of the Renovare podcast. I’m finding that even good things, like podcasts (ironically), RSS feeds, and newsletters, can still clutter the mind and distort my temporal perception. Even my “simplification” away from social media still necessitates greater simplicity. This isn’t to say that I’ve completely tuned out from people whose thoughts interest me (they obviously act as a springboard for much of this blog), but I’ve been more willing to click “unsubscribe” if I’m not finding something enjoyable. I simply don’t have the cognitive bandwidth to read something just because it’s deemed “important”. My brain needs space to think and grow.

    Which brings me back to Jacobs’s notion of the garden. If I’m ever going to produce ideas that are worthwhile and that I’m going to actually care about, I need to step away and let the elements do their work on the soil of my mind. I’m content to sit and watch them grow for a while.

  • Catchup

    It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, and I’ve done/experienced/read/thought about a few things that warrant their own posts, but I’ll fill them in here.

    That’s about all I have for now. Enjoy your weekend.

  • Deserts

    A piece my best friend wrote was recently posted over at Mockingbird. (Trigger warning: this story recounts sexual abuse) No words of mine can do it justice. Here’s a brief glimpse:

    Hope sought me out in that place. It clothed me and gave me water. It bade me to follow and find rest. Hope didn’t require me to be clean. It didn’t require me to be well-behaved. It wasn’t contingent on my political standing or sexual orientation. It was a rescue without requirements.

    It’s painful and moving, exploring trauma, storytelling, and grace. I can’t recommend reading it enough. Proud of you, Collin.

  • To be self-forgetful

    From Alan Jacobs’s essay, Reverting to Type:

    In many respects, going back to the kinds of books I used to read has also meant going back to the kinds of reading habits I used to have. Just as there was a point in my life when I had to remind myself to grab that pencil, the time eventually came when I had to remind myself to leave it where it was and grasp the book (or the Kindle) in my two otherwise empty hands. The object now was not to prepare for class or develop a scholarly argument, but rather to become lost in a book, as I once was often; to be self-forgetful for a while.

    Jacobs’s work first came to my attention when I was in college working on my senior project. His book How to Think, published last year, and his presence at this year’s Mockingbird NYC conference brought him back on to my radar. Although I’d been interested in the intersection of theology and literature while in college (I essentially wanted to do his current job for a living; things took a different turn), I never realized how much our interests overlapped. Take, for example, this other passage from the same essay:

    I have similar thoughts about Danny Hillis’s wonderful little book The Pattern On The Stone: The Simple Ideas That Make Computers Work, which was the book that made me believe I could learn at least a little scripting, if not full-fledged programming. Like Dawkins’s account of how evolutionary biology builds up reliable historical evidence, Hillis’s account of computer design explains how the simplest elements — Boolean logic applied to the most elementary distinction of all, that between on and off, yes and no, 1 and 0 — ultimately yields the staggering power of modern computers and their networks. How cool to think about. How useful to internalize these procedures — or at least to attempt to — in order to structure and buttress one’s own thinking.

    Coincidentally, Hillis’s book provided the impetus that actually drove me into full-fledged programming. It’s encouraging to see someone in the humanities extend their interests in technology to the point of trying to code themselves. Although only two years in to my software career, I find myself trying to do the same thing from the other side of the humanities/STEM divide; extending my interests beyond detached observation to actually engaging with them, even though I may not make a career of it.

    But I digressed completely from why I started writing this in the first place. I’ve been rediscovering the joy of reading and writing again; not for personal development or career advancement, but “to be self-forgetful for a while.” Although there are times I wish I could get paid to read books or study a subject and write and teach about it, software development has been a blessing not just for the opportunities it’s provided me, but for the fact that it’s forced me to learn the joy of reading and writing for their own sake - to learn to love what I’m doing and forget myself for a bit.

  • Capon and Cambridge Analytica

    From Robert Farrar Capon’s recently republished marriage anti-advice book, Bed & Board:

    I became an old fogey young; I looked backward habitually and gladly. So, I think, did a good many of my generation. The real question therefore is: where did this love of the past come from?

    Well, I think it came from living just one age after the end of the modern era. I grew up reading ~Popular Science Monthly~ in the thirties. I will never forget its rapt narration of the coming wonders of the new age; but I don’t think we will ever see that dewy-eyed scientific Messianism ever again. Back there, in the dark of the depression, newness was still the great watchword, just as it had been in the twenties. At Hiroshima, the newness blew itself sky-high, and when we finally did crawl out of our holes, we all began to look around for something a little less violently new. ~The Waste Land~ was no longer an avant-garde way of talking about life; it was the way our world ~felt~.

    An odd bit of reflection from a book ostensibly about marriage, but that’s one of the wonderful things about Capon’s writing — immediate concerns are almost indistinguishable from transcendent ones. Thus, Bed & Board is about marriage, but also more than marriage. Ultimately, I would say the book is about everyday grace.

    Some readers (as well as Capon himself, later in life) have noted that some of the statements in the book are a bit dated, if not outright sexist, in their views of men and women. But despite these shortcomings, the book’s message of embracing the absurdities of marriage holds up well. As CJ Green writes in his foreword to the new edition, “…it is its unfailing levity regarding everyday life that resurrects Bed and Board day after day, keeping it fresh, relevant, and completely true no matter the decade.”

    And I would say the quote I opened this post with demonstrates its relevance very well. I’m unsure whether or not Capon would be surprised, but the “dewy-eyed scientific Messianism” seems to have returned, at least among some — a quick perusal of Hacker News comments will reveal this. But as the newness of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and Twitter flame-wars and hyper-partisan clickbait of all varieties have blown our civil discourse and sense of community/stability sky-high, I can’t help but wonder if people are seeking out ways of being, interacting, and consuming information that are “a little less violently new.” I certainly am.

  • I’ve been everywhere

    So it’s been over a month. Hello again.

    That having been said, I suppose the fact that I travelled across the country and back twice in the same month more than accounts my silence here. Pittsburgh for RailsConf one week, NYC for Mockingbird the next. Two cities for two very different conferences.

    Both trips were a blast. I walked away from both with much to think about, and (hopefully) much to write about, especially Mockingbird. The latter conference crystalized a number of things that I had been feeling but hadn’t given voice to. A few friends of ours were present at the conference this year, one of whom co-wrote a book(!). (Congratulations to both Charlotte and Stephanie, by the way. While I have yet to read it, Jenoa began it after the first night of the conference and let out a laugh about every thirty seconds.)

    “Grace in divided times” was the conference’s theme. I could hardly have thought of a more appropriate or poignant emphasis. To paraphrase Alan Jacobs (whom we had the pleasure of hearing speak twice), anger/wrath is the great sin of our time. It’s a notion that makes everyone complicit in the division that seems so pervasive. The very thing that truly does unite us is our mutual guilt and need for grace. And, mercifully, the even deeper unifier is the truth that abundant grace is given to all.

    The message of that is what drew me to Mockingbird, and that’s the same message I hope to communicate with much of what I write here.

  • Thorin’s Dying Words

    From J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit

    ”If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

    Those words are among the few spoken by Thorin Oakenshield as he lay on his deathbed. I recently finished re-reading The Hobbit and am currently working my way through The Lord of the Rings. It’s passages like that that make Tolkien’s more popular works resonate deeply with me.

    I decided to revisit them this year as an antidote to cynicism. I get that his work might seem dated, even (gasp) irrelevant when compared with the gritty worldliness of series like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Ugly human nature and realpolitik are on full display in GRRM’s work, and how appropriate those elements are for our “post-truth” culture.

    And while we need the unflinching honesty of ASOIAF, I would also argue that we equally need the unflinching courage and hope that Tolkien’s legendarium exemplifies. My default dispositions are cynicism and despair. Such attitudes are not difficult to come by, but nor are they useful — they do not bring healing or change, but simply perpetuate the pain, loneliness, and animosity that characterizes much of public and private life.

    Call it naive, escapist, or whatever you will, but I read these books — and write this blog — because I believe that there is good worth believing in.

    The chorus of Thrice’s “The Long Defeat”) puts it well —

    So keep holding on to hope without assurance Holding on to a memory of light But will the morning come? For all I know we’ll never see the sun But together we’ll fight the long defeat

    Oddly enough, inspiration for those lyrics came from Tolkien as well.

    Someday, it will be a merrier world.

  • Penumbra’s New Fiction

    So this “blogging consistently” thing is really hard. Anyway, hope you’ve had a good March. Mine was great, albeit hectic. Family visiting, friends getting married, wife starting new job at W+R Studios (yes, we work together now). All wonderful things, that sometimes mean neglecting other activities, like writing here. I was hoping to do some holy week reflections, but even then, the ideas aren’t necessarily restricted to holy week. I have a list of blog ideas, that will be related to things I read or thought about days or even weeks ago. I’m terrible at the “hot take” or “real time” thing. Probably for the best.

    That said, I’m recently came across Penumbra’s New Fiction thanks to GANZEER’s recommendation in his newsletter, Restricted Frequency.

    Edited by author Robin Sloan, Penumbra’s New Fiction periodically publishes digital fiction, but with a twist — it can’t actually be read “digitally”. Rather, readers are required to print the stories themselves. The current story, “The Unbeatable Deck of Ronan Shin”, is more than worth your while. A story about a Magic the Gathering-like game, friendship, and bullying. It’s fascinating and uncomfortable. At 8 pages, it’s worth the few minutes it takes to read.

    Penumbra’s New Fiction is also an interesting exercise in what publishing on the internet could look like. It’s a reminder that the web is still a place where beauty and creativity can surprise us.

  • Vulnerability

    Seth Godin recently wrote,

    Role models are fine. But not when they get in the way of embracing our reality. The reality of not enough time, not enough information, not enough resources. The reality of imperfection and vulnerability.

    There are no movie stars. Merely people who portray them now and then.

    I always appreciate Seth Godin’s candor. Someone as successful and respected as he is could pitch their advice as a fool-proof framework for excellence and success in one’s work—indeed, many do.

    “Imposter syndrome” is a term that gets thrown around a lot amongst software developers. It’s the mindset that we are not good enough, not a “real” programmer. We could think this way for any number of reasons—lack of formal CS education, lack of experience, lack of knowledge around the cool new framework that everyone is talking about on Hacker News, lack of concern about what anyone even says on Hacker News, etc.

    It’s easy to look at other, more experienced programmers and think that they have it all figured out. Yet some of the most profound things I’ve learned have come from hearing senior devs admit they don’t have an answer for the technical or architectural problem at hand.

    My boss once told me that as I progress in my software development career, I’ll come across increasing problems for which there is no blog post, no tutorial, no Stack Overflow answer, and that that is where the most interesting growth happens.

    Although we should work against the shame and deleterious effects it entails, “imposter syndrome” shouldn’t be confused for humility. Rather, by embracing our not-enough-ness and vulnerability, we can avoid hubris, learn, grow, and make something good.

  • Reflections on Reflections

    Seven days in and March is proving to be a hectic month, full of good things, but full of things nonetheless. I haven’t allotted myself the time I normally do for ruminating. That said, I feel I ought to share/reflect on David Zahl’s reflection on Andrew Sullivan’s essay on America’s opioid epidemic. Admittedly, I haven’t read Sullivan’s piece in its entirety, but DZ’s thoughts on it are worth sharing nonetheless. There are lots of gems in there, but I thought this passage especially poignant. Writing about how in our culture (and churches), we prefer to avoid addressing the real problems ailing us, he states:

    …we opt instead for false positivity or spiritual to-do lists. It’s acceptable to preach a topical sermon on marriage (on the right) or racism (on the left) but not… despair. Which is, ironically, the most relevant topic of all when it comes to the Christian religion.

    If, as Zahl argues, the current epidemic can’t be reduced to its political and economic factors (relevant though they may be), but reflects a much deeper crisis of widespread despair, then the response of Christians ought to be one that addresses that despair with countervailing hope.

    Readers who don’t share my beliefs may find such assertions ludicrous, if not offensive. The response is fair and warrants another conversation entirely, one I’d be glad to have. But at the same time, I would argue that the deepest need of our time is grace in a world bereft of it.

    And I think that’s what I’m trying to communicate with this blog—exploring how to think and live and treat others with grace in a world where disagreement is thought of as violence and political leaders flex their nuclear muscles on social media and billionaires launch their cars into space. My hope, I guess, is to see how truly transient these things are—and how the apparent madness of our time needn’t have the final say. Indeed, it won’t. I’ll close with DZ’s close:

    The gospel, if it is to find traction in the age of fentanyl, must speak to the Crystal Champs of the world. It cannot stop at sobriety or hang on willpower; it must resonate in the Wet House as well as the dry. This gospel, if it is to be actual good news, must address men and women whose hearts and bodies are infected with all manner of trouble, bereft of hope, who see God as an exacting cop (if at all), not a loving father who meets us where we are, in our shame and sin, with mercy, help and the spirit of adoption.

    Thankfully–and miraculously–it does. The gospel in the age of fentanyl is the same gospel as ever, the message about the God who intervenes upon us with outlandish charity, at a cost to himself, offering life eternal to those who’ve been checkmated by the here and now. Not one who gives hope to the hopeless, but who is hope to the hopeless.

  • Quiet

    I attempt to make a habit of blogging at least once per week, if not twice. Given that the last post was published nearly two weeks ago, it’s clear I did not meet last week’s goal. Oops.

    The last week was more hectic than normal, so I’m going to give myself some grace. I’ve brainstormed some what else I’d like to see on here. Given that I haven’t used Facebook in years, and that I recently left Twitter, I’m floating the idea of having a newsletter subscription that notifies you of a new post, or just sends the entire contents of the post straight to your inbox. I’m also working on adding a blogroll.

    I really like Warren Ellis’s notion of the “Republic of Newsletters”, as a not-quite countervailing but potentially antidotal force to the utter mess that is now social media. I still think blogs can serve the same purpose, but I understand that without a reader or some means to click “subscribe” it requires some seeking out, making it more susceptible to falling off readers’ attentional radars. In a recent newsletter, Ellis listed some suggested alternatives to the now-defunct Google Reader that people still use to subscribe to RSS feeds. It’s all a matter of finding new ways to connect to the things you want without the platforms getting in the way.

    And that’s what it seems like Facebook, Twitter, etc. are in the business of doing. Getting in the way. I can’t speak for Twitter, but it seems widely understood now that Facebook’s primary business is not showing you what you asked for but what it wants you to see—what it thinks will keep you more engaged. I was talking to a fellow developer a while ago, who pined for Instagram before “Facebook ruined” it. Sure, it shamelessly appropriated Snapchat’s features and lets you do funny things to people’s faces, but I miss the chronological display of what I asked to see. I don’t want an algorithm’s suggestions, or things I missed.

    In contrast to the social media bazaar, writing blogs and newsletters can feel like dispatching messages in bottles from a remote island. But the web is not Facebook, or Instagram, or Twitter, or even Google. Writers, creators, artists, programmers, and everyone who wants to share something has options. Sure, potential visibility is impaired when you don’t use one of the major platforms, but even then, it’s only potential visibility — none of those services care whether or not your work is seen. Obviously, I’m not trying to market my writing, so I do have the luxury of not having to figure how to leverage those platforms to build an audience. Nonetheless, I’m content to write to whatever audience finds me here, in this quiet corner of the web. And given how noisy the major players make the world seem, I’m more than glad to keep things quiet over here.

  • Generosity

    In Free of Charge, theologian Miroslav Volf writes, “Left unchecked, the slide away from generosity robs us of significant cultural achievements, on which our flourishing as individuals and communities depends” (15).

    The book was published back in ’05, before so many were aggressively thinkpiece-ing about political polarization, the deleterious effects of social media, fears of automation, etc. It was oddly prescient back then, and, having been written before the aforementioned hot topics were much of a thing, suggests that our current cultural malaise, real as it may be, is an issue of the human heart before all else; a spiritual problem that precedes a technological problem. Nonetheless, I think a slide away from generosity is one possible description of what our culture currently experiences.

    My senior thesis in college was on the influence of Jonathan Edwards in the fiction of Marilynne Robinson, which included the theme of generosity — not just material generosity, but spiritual. The kind of generosity that assumes the best of others and seeks to give grace in spite of difference and disagreement. Such a disposition toward another person is profoundly challenging, and, as I argued back then, and still do, profoundly necessary.

    We’ve achieved some great things. But before we tackle the big problems, perhaps we’d be wise to tackle the problems of our own miserliness toward one another.

  • “Artemis”

    Andy Weir’s Artemis can best be described as an organized crime thriller on the moon. It’s quite a departure from his Mars-survival-blog, The Martian, but enjoyable nonetheless. Those who enjoyed his first book for its intricate technical aspects might find themselves wanting when reading Artemis. The details and descriptions are there, but the plot is what drives the narrative, not the engineering.

    Nonetheless, I enjoyed living in the head of protagonist Jazz Bashara. She has all the wit, gumption, and intellect of Mark Watney, and is in some ways more developed as a character. I don’t think I enjoyed this novel more or less than The Martian, I just enjoyed it differently. I’m excited to see what story Andy Weir engineers next.

  • Against Nostalgia

    I’m starting to become less patient with nostalgia.

    I get it. I enjoy playing Goldeneye and revisiting Nickelodeon cartoons. I remember when X-Men and Batman Begins were released, and they heralded exciting new possibilities that didn’t feel like they were being rehashed every summer.

    But at the same time, many of the people I know who thrive on nostalgia, seem hell-bent on just rehashing the past.

    A complaint I recently heard about Star Wars: The Last Jedi was that it was just Disney trying to make money on new characters that “no one cares about”. Yet there are people who care about the new characters, more particularly kids. Kids who are the same age that my friend who voiced the complaint likely was when they first watched A New Hope.

    According to the Dictionary app on my Macbook (using the New Oxford American Dictionary), the word “nostalgia” seems to have entered English usage in the late 19th century, initially meaning “acute homesickness”. I certainly can empathize with nostalgia at a much deeper level when considered in that sense.

    But perhaps part of maturation is to build a home for oneself and one’s own. To continue to create memories in the present.

    Another good friend pointed out that the way he stopped being disappointed in movies was that he stopped expecting to undergo an experience by them. He instead learned to embrace them on their own terms.

    And perhaps the cure for nostalgia is to embrace what is in front of us instead of pining and mourning for the experience of the past. It’s not like we cultivated such cherished memories by mourning the past then.

  • “Interdisciplinary Insights”

    Aside from blogging here, I’ve been trying to build my writing habit by working on a short story. I wrote some short stories while in college, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

    My best friend, Collin, writes quite a bit. He credits me with initially inspiring him to write, but he has since far surpassed me in quantity of output, and, I would argue, quality. Although he doesn’t code, he said he imagined storytelling and programming to be similar disciplines, or for there at least to be an overlap in skills and practice.

    I think his hunch is true.

    A bit of advice sometimes given to writers is to stop writing in the middle of a scene, or a point of tension in the narrative. That way you have something to work with when you return to it.

    I’m finding a similar practice has been helping me with programming lately. I’m currently working on a tool for importing legacy configurations into a new schema in a new system, and trying to use test-driven development while doing it. The whole export/import system is fairly involved, taking me more than a day to build, and starting the day with a new function or component to write without knowing exactly what you want it to do, let alone how, can be fairly daunting.

    In the spirit of true TDD, I write a failing test that expects a certain output, and then code the feature until the test passes. But, instead of spending tomorrow morning determining the “shape” of data I want and writing a new test, I ended today by writing a failing test, giving me an explicit objective to complete in the morning. I’ll admit it felt uncomfortable leaving this undone, but having something clear to accomplish in front of my when I start my day tends to be very motivating, and provides fuel when moving on to each successive task.

    Never underestimate the power of interdisciplinary insights.

  • “Too much power, too little knowledge”

    In “Damage”, from his collection What Are People For?, Wendell Berry writes—

    The trouble was a familiar one: too much power, too little knowledge.

    The context of the phrase, the “trouble”, was a section of woods floor sliding down a hillside into a pond the winter after he decided to level some of the forest for pasture.

    Toward the end of the essay, he also writes—

    Only when our acts are empowered with more than bodily strength do we need to think of limits.

    As a technologist, it might be ironic that Berry’s pastoral and agrarian experience brings wisdom to bear on my profession. I wonder how many software projects go awry because we fail to understand the purpose and proper implementation of the wide array of tools at our disposal, or the business domain of the problem our programs try to solve.

    Technology, by its very nature, empowers us to act beyond our bodily strength, and software is no exception. Berry might be inclined to look askance at my profession, but his point deserves consideration nonetheless. We can do impressive things with software, but the freedom and possibility that our tools give us should prompt us to think of limits — financial, societal, and ethical. We should not fear discussing and exploring controversial or innovative ideas, but we must consider our responsibility to those whom the ideas might affect, and how it might affect them. As programmers, we frequently discuss “soft skills” alongside technical skills, and how we ought to cultivate them. Perhaps we should add knowledge of “moral skill” to the category of soft skills. Both ourselves and our users would benefit. Berry warns in the essay that the damage done to the land is also damage to himself.

    He also writes—

    When the road of excess has reached the palace of wisdom it is a healed wound, a long scar.

    May we learn from the excesses of others and take a different road altogether.

  • Newspaper Renaissance

    A recent episode of Virtue in the Wasteland mentioned the notion of a “newspaper renaissance” on the heels of a discussion about the anxiety induced by the perceived exigency of mobile news alerts.

    There seems to be increasing awareness and discussion surrounding the mentally and socially corrosive nature of social media. I haven’t used Facebook for almost 5 years now, and removed myself from Twitter last year. I still maintain a private Instagram profile, but don’t even have the app installed.

    I’m finding enjoyment in newspapers myself. The LA Times’ e-newspaper is delivered to my inbox daily, and soon the print version of the Sunday edition will be delivered my front door. I don’t read the whole thing, and I don’t feel the need to. And, contrary to the designs devised by UX researchers for all of your favorite apps, it’s not engineered to make me feel that need. In many ways, it’s the antithesis of the algorithmically generated feed – static, focused, and rhythmic. It’s not perpetually updated or A/B tested. And in many (though not all) ways it feels like an antidote the to the malaise of a perpetual noise cycle.

    Some might find it ironic that a software developer eschews new media in favor of something old and established. On the contrary, some of the best principles and practices of software development are rooted in tried and true practices (object-oriented programming, SOLID, KISS, etc.). Knowing that might help the unfamiliar reader better understand my disposition toward old and boring things.

    Furthermore, restricting the form of my news intake has practical benefits for my work; the less noise, the greater the ease of concentration. And anyone who has programmed software will tell you the importance of focus in deep work. Cal Newport has written extensively on this.

    Many of our distractions and anxieties are engineered for us. Do what you must to curb them, and let your work and life flourish on your terms.

  • At Home

    Jenoa and I recently returned from a three-week trip back east to visit my extended family for the holidays. I love the tri-state area; the trees, the cold, the food. I now desire a Taylor Ham, egg, and cheese on a roll and resent its being beyond my reach.

    And yet I’m glad to be here again. Despite my complaints about Southern California, it is home. Despite the dryness, the traffic, the sense of inescapable crowdedness, it is home. I look forward to new projects, old friends, and ongoing living. Sunday morning church services, Saturday night games and drinks. Weeknight meals with Jenoa.

    Strange as it my sound, I look forward to work. It’s a blessing that I get to solve interesting problems daily alongside thoughtful and energizing people.

    I thrive on quotidian rhythms. I hope to add blogging to them again, alongside a few other projects. And I value the place where I experience these rhythms, the place that nourishes the roots of who am I and what I do.

  • Stuff 'n Things 2017

    It’s been a couple of years since the last time I published a “cool stuff from 20**” blog. It’s actually been some time since I’ve blogged in any shape or form, now that I think of it.

    2017 was an eventful year. Marriage, career growth, therapy. All exciting and good, yet heavy and significant. Hence the silence. I have missed writing quite bit. At one time, I thought it would be my bread and butter. And I do write every day still, if writing software counts. But I’d like to start dabbling in English alongside Ruby again.

    Reading’s been a constant through this time. I think this post will mostly focus on books I enjoyed reading this past year. Listed in roughly chronological order.

    Here and Now: Living in the Spirit - Henri Nouwen

    Henri Nouwen’s words are like medicine for the soul. I’ve read a few of his books, but Here and Now remains an excellent introduction to his work, in my opinion. Short, digestible sections make for material that’s comprehensible and perfect for pondering. Nouwen’s applies the life and words of Christ to the reader in a gracious and profound way.

    Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen

    I could have sworn that I read this late 2016, but my Goodreads account says otherwise. A fantastic memoir that’s both epic in scope and intimate in its revelations. Springsteen goes beyond giving the reader a simple narrative of his musical career, meditating deeply on families, fatherhood, and masculinity.

    Mistborn - Brandon Sanderson

    I’m just going to give the whole series its own entry. Although I’m still working through the third novel in the initial trilogy (The Hero of Ages), Sanderson’s fantasy writing is some of the most original and engaging I’ve ever read. His action scenes are quick, descriptive, and gripping. Any of fan of Tolkien, Jordan, Martin, Rothfuss, etc. etc. ought to give Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn books a shot.

    The Mindful Twenty-Something - Holly B. Rogers

    I know, I know. The title. I know. Damn millennials should just toughen the f*** up. I know.

    But something marriage has been teaching me is that the one of the most important things a man (or woman) can do is swallow their damned pride, admit that they are not okay, and pursue health and wholeness for the sake of those they love. I came to grips with the fact that I have an anxiety problem after much prompting from Jenoa, and, after receiving a proper diagnosis, pursued therapy. Part of this has been exploring the currently trendy practice of mindfulness meditation. I commend this book to you in large part because of how it demystifies mindfulness and gives practical instruction for implementing it.

    Silence - Shusako Endo

    I received this as a gift last Christmas and finally came around to reading it this December. If you’ve seen the Scorsese film, then you’ll be familiar with the plot; the adaptation is remarkably faithful. Yet, Endo’s words are still worth reading for their own sake. The notion that God’s presence can be most deeply felt in his apparent absence, that he speaks loudest in silence, that grace is still present in even the most barren spiritual wilderness, points to a theology of the cross through and through. Even if you’re not a believer, the historical novel’s narrative of tenacity through suffering is moving and worth experiencing.

    That’s all I have for now. There are a number of possible entries that I’ll probably kick myself later for not including. I hope to share with you more frequently this coming year.