Brandon's Notepad

October 5, 2017

Amoris Laetitia

Filed under: Christianity — Brandon @ 4:22 pm
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Home > My Research > Christianity > Selected Papal Writings > Amoris Laetitia


Synopsis

This is Pope Francis’ controversial exhortation (2016) that followed the two Synods on the Family (2014 & 2015).

Resources

Observations

  • The title (The Joy of Love in English) is derived from the first words of the document.
  • Paragraph 57 states, “The Synod’s reflections show us that there is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of different realities…”. This seems to be a deviation from the Church’s perennial teaching that both the Trinity and the Holy Family are indeed stereotypes of the ideal family. These examples are even cited in paragraphs 29 and 30.

Summary

Introduction

  1. Family love is much desired today, especially by young people.
  2. The synod examined complex modern marriage/family issues to provide clarity to the Church.
  3. Solutions need not be doctrinal, but can differ by culture.
  4. The process was eye-opening. Contributions and considerations are recorded herein.
  5. It is fitting to write this in the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
  6. I will cover Scripture, current issues, Church teaching on marriage, love, pastoral advice, and a call for mercy and discernment.
  7. Many questions were addressed, hence the length of this writing. Read carefully and with purpose.

Chapter 1: In the Light of the Word

  1. The Bible is full of stories about families and their problems.
  2. The union of man and woman has existed since the beginning.
  3. The couple is made in God’s image, a sign of his creation.
  4. The fruitful love of the married couple is an image (icon) of God’s Trinitarian nature. Salvation history progressed through families, and thus, through the ability of the married couple to beget life.
  5. Love is an encounter, each giving the self to the other.
  6. The union is not merely physical, but the clinging of two souls in harmony.
  7. Children are a sign of continuity and are the building blocks of society.
  8. God should be found in the home, the domestic church.
  9. Faith is passed down through the family.
  10. Parents are responsible for education, and the children should respect them.
  11. Children are people, not property.
  12. Pain, evil, and violence can break up families, love and purity can be overturned by domination.
  13. The Bible also contains stories of family violence and hatred.
  14. Family problems are woven into Jesus’ parables.
  15. Thus, Sacred Scripture does not contain abstract ideas, but comfort for the suffering.
  16. Man is a laborer and work is essential to human dignity.
  17. Labor sustains the family and develops society.
  18. Unemployment, poverty, and hunger diminish the serenity of family life.
  19. Sin results in social degeneration and injustice; this includes the abuse of nature.
  20. Christ taught the law of love (by word and example), which bears the fruits of mercy and forgiveness.
  21. Love moves us toward tenderness.
  22. Thus we have examined the family in Scripture, a communion of persons in the image of the Trinity that should become an even greater dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.
  23. The Holy Family of Nazareth, and Mary in particular, are models for understanding the family experience.

Chapter 2: The Experiences and Challenges of Families

  1. The family is the future, and many studies have examined the challenges of today’s family, including the Synod.
  2. The family continues to evolve. It receives less outside support than in times past, but benefits from duty-sharing and improved personal communication.
  3. Extreme individualism is a danger to relationships, commitment, and the generous giving of self.
  4. In the light of such individualism, family life is seen as a benefit only when convenient.
  5. Christians cannot stop advocating marriage and should not impose it by rule, but should better understand and convey the reasons for choosing it.
  6. Marriage has been presented as an abstract theological ideal, with far more emphasis on the procreative aspect than on the unitive.
  7. Doctrine, bioethics, and moral issues have been the focus, not presenting marriage as a path to development, fulfillment, and grace.
  8. Thankfully, most people value permanent relationships and many experience the grace of the Sacraments, but too much pastoral energy has been spent denouncing worldliness instead of teaching how to find true happiness. The Church’s message is perceived as different from Jesus’ teachings.
  9. Christians cannot stop warning against cultural decline. Relationships are increasingly commoditized: consumed for certain benefits and then disposed of.
  10. The reasons for avoiding or postponing the start of a family are many. We must learn to arouse the courage of young people.
  11. Today’s culture does not harness affectivity, resulting in the inability of people (and thus marriages) to mature properly.
  12. Population decline is the result of politics, science, industrialization, social fears, consumerism, etc. The Church opposes State promoted/enforced population control.
  13. Weak faith in modern culture leads to distance from God and loneliness, both in individuals and in families. The State is responsible for helping young people realize plans for having a family.
  14. Public policy (juridical, economic, social, fiscal) should reduce family suffering (unemployment, healthcare, etc.) so that the family can nurture relationships within as well as participate in society.
  15. Irregular family constructs, war, terrorism, crime, and hardships of urban life contribute to the suffering of children. Scandalous abuse occurs when and where they should be the most safe.
  16. Migration can be beneficial to the family in some cases and destabilizing in others. Pastoral programs should be offered to those who leave as well as for those who stay behind.
  17. The family that welcomes a child with special needs is a special witness to faith and the gift of life.
  18. The same is true for the family that loves and cares for its elderly members, who too-often are considered a burden. The Church opposes euthanasia and assisted suicide as threats to the family.
  19. Poverty can greatly inhibit the personal growth of a child. The Church should offer comfort rather than judgment.
  20. Family life is often affected by everyday challenges such as job-related stress/exhaustion, addiction to television, lack of a common family meal, fear of the future welfare fo the children, etc.
  21. Drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other addictions contribute greatly to the breakdown of the family today.
  22. The weakening of the family threatens individual maturity, communal values, and moral progress of society. Only the family based on the traditional marriage can ensure the future of society. Other family constructs can only secure a certain level of stability at best.
  23. Some countries allow for polygamy, arranged marriages, and cohabitation (premarital and/or permanent), and legislation increasingly favors individual autonomy over the value of traditional marriage.
  24. The recognition of women’s rights has advanced in general, but a dignity equal with that of man is not yet fully realized.
  25. Men play an important role in family life and their absence is detrimental.
  26. Various forms of gender ideology deny the differences between man and women, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. Also, scientific advances allow for the separation of procreation and parenthood. Man today is tempted by culture to take the place of the Creator, instead of being a creature who respects what has been created.
  27. The challenges that families face today should drive missionary creativity.

More to come…


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October 4, 2017

October 4, 2017: Dutch Ovens, IdeaBoardz, Like Fab Ostpay Bork!

Filed under: My Stack — Brandon @ 4:45 pm

ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-2I8

Dutch Oven Dude
Camping is a lot of fun in its own right, but being able to prepare meals over a campfire beyond hot dogs and s’mores takes the experience to a whole new level. Dutch oven cooking is a time-tested method and a favored one for many campers. Basic ingredients go in and surprisingly awesome dishes come out, almost as if by magic…almost. Don’t camp? No problem! Dutch ovens are great for backyard cooking too. If you are new to dutch ovens or just want a long list of recipes to try, I highly recommend visiting Dutch Oven Dude. The site has a bunch of recipes and I have had great success with the ones I’ve tried so far. There is also a ‘Getting Started’ section for beginners, tips on how to season, clean, store, and fix your cast iron cookware, and even instructions on how to determine how hot your dutch oven is before pouring in the ingredients!

IdeaBoardz
In a recent class on Agile development, I was introduced to IdeaBoardz, a collaborative site for hosting restrospectives, brainstorming sessions, and other types of card-based or ‘sticky note’ meetings online. The site is free, though an optional login account can be created to help keep track of previous meeting links. At the time of this writing, there are fifteen formats for collaboration boards, including to-do lists, pros & cons, several types of retrospective styles, and generic boards with 1 to 10 sections. The cards (or sticky notes) can be merged, moved, and even liked by meeting participants. A link to a board can be shared with anyone (e.g. via e-mail), so it doesn’t look like information is truly private; however, if card content remains fairly generic and the board is used in conjunction with a more secure channel of communication (e.g. a conference call), then privacy may not be a huge concern.

English to Chef/Jive/Val Speak/Pig Latin Translator
I found this novelty online translator quite by accident. It translates English words and phrases to one of several other ‘languages’ (or a combination of all). Written in C/Lex, it is the brainchild of John Burges Chambers, a (former) doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin in the 1990s. The source code is still available for download.

September 14, 2017

TFS / VSTS Customization

ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-2DL


I started working heavily with Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS) in the summer of 2016 and may be migrating to Visual Studio Team Servcies (VSTS) in the not-so-distant future. The need to customize TFS operations was almost immediately obvious, and the complexity of the customization only increases in proportion with the use of the tool. This page is a (growing) list of links that I’ve found useful.


Runtime Environment Variables

Environment variables are available for use during both build and release operations. These are my go-to references when I need to figure out how to get to runtime data.

Marketplace Extensions

The Visual Studio Marketplace offers many useful extensions for TFS & VSTS. Some implement or extend features such as dashboards, but the ones I’m most interested in (at least for now) are the build and release tasks. Like apps on a smart phone, these little gems eliminate the need for writing extensive scripts to compile code and deploy products. I’ve found it important to check the Marketplace often for new items as well as for updates to extensions already in use.

Favorites

Futures

Forgo

  • Hopefully, I won’t have to add any extensions in this section.

Custom Scripts & Extensions

If you can’t find what you need in the Marketplace, you can always write your own deployment scripts and extensions. These can be published or retained for internal use only, your choice. Here is a list of useful resources for beginners.

Extensions

Powershell

REST API

More to come…


September 6, 2017

Creativity Deconstructed

ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-2FT


Before you can effectively and consistently boost creativity, you must first understand what creativity really is. As I always say, words are important, and the study of words can reveal some truly amazing things. In this case, creativity appears to be a fairly simple etymological study.


The root word of creativity is obviously create, so it is not surprising that most English dictionaries define the word as the ability to create. Personally, I don’t find that definition very satisfying, because when we talk about creativity or when we describe someone as being very creative, we typically have something much greater in mind than the simple ability to make something. Some dictionaries extend this definition to include the ability to think new things. The Oxford dictionary explicitly ties the act of creation in this context to the use of the imagination and notes that the resultant thing or idea is original. The Cambridge definition goes even further to suggest that the ideas produced also possess the property of being unusual. I prefer the word unique over unusual, but the latter does connote that the thing or idea is not only one-of-a-kind, but also out-of-the-ordinary.

One must be careful throwing a word like create around too loosely, however. All too often, people equate it with the word make, as in, “let’s go make some art”. This seldom works in reverse, because you never hear things like, “I’ll create the coffee in the morning”. The word make has other meanings that are also incompatible; for example, phrases like “please create your bed before leaving for school” and “I hope you can create it home in time for dinner” make no sense at all!

The same problem is inherent with the word produce (the verb, not the lettuce). Does an artist produce great works of art in the same way a manufacturing plant produces widgets? Obviously not. In Latin, we can distinguish the verb creo from produco, facio, and fabrico (think produce, manufacture, and fabricate respectively). Things can be made (produced/manufactured/fabricated) according to a design, but the creative act must, by definition, occur before or coincident with the design. This ties in well with the notion of originality: a new creation’s origin is an outcome of the creative act.

I am rather partial to the definition of creativity that I first heard in a Lynda.com training course titled “Creativity Bootcamp”. In that course, author and instructor Stefan Mumaw explains that “creativity is problem solving with relevance and novelty.” Relevance is a binary property: a proposed solution either solves a problem or it doesn’t. Novelty (i.e. “newness”) is where originality comes in. Why does Mumaw include these two properties in his definition? Because he wants to emphasize that creativity is not the same thing as artistry. An art (from the Latin ars) is a skill that one learns through practice. So, while a very skilled artist can, say, paint impressive landscapes, there may be little or no creativity in his work, because he is not solving the problem — capturing and expressing the essence of the place — in a new way.

So where does that leave us in terms of understanding the nature of creativity? More importantly, does this understanding bring us any closer to learning how to consistently deliver creative solutions? At a minimum, it helps us define our boundaries. If a problem truly calls for a creative solution, it is either because the problem itself is new or all previous solutions have proven to be ineffective or suboptimal. Also, we can recognize that looking for ideas (e.g. Pinterest) is the antithesis of being creative, and may in fact hinder our own creativity in most cases. Instead, we should focus on analyzing and solving the problem outright, and then researching to see if our “best” solution has already been attempted by someone else. Finally, we can completely dismiss the notion that creativity is inextricably linked to artistic talent. In fact, scientific discovery and invention are predicated on creative thinking. Thus, creativity is not so much about the solution, but about how we, as creative beings, approach the problem.


August 29, 2017

Creativity: A Study

Filed under: Art,Productivity,Psychology,Self Improvement — Brandon @ 8:50 am
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ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-2FL


I consider myself to be a fairly creative person. I grew up in a household that encouraged self-expression and experimentation on many levels, including the arts. As a result, I’ve always enjoyed writing, sketching, painting, and playing music, even at times when I felt like I wasn’t very good at them at all. And like most people, I too have periods in which I lack inspiration and need a little boost to get the creative juices flowing. In fact, finding myself in a creative slump is exactly what prompted me to start studying the nature of creativity.


Below are a set of questions I set out to answer in the course of this study:

  • What is creativity really?
  • Is being creative the same as being artistic?
  • What is a creative process?
  • Can creativity be measured?
  • How do I find inspiration?

As my study progresses, I will post my findings here. If you would like updates on my progress, please follow me on Twitter.


August 23, 2017

Catholic Hate Groups

ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-2Fq


Amidst the many news articles and commentaries published last week about the violence in Charlottesville and the tearing down of Confederate statues, I happened to notice a few Tweets about the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map. I ignored them until someone started to point out that fourteen Catholic organizations were included. I had to learn more.


The Southern Poverty Law Center

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a nonprofit organization that specializes in civil rights litigation. It was the brainchild of Morris Dees and was co-founded with Joseph J. Levin Jr. in 1971. Beginning with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in 1979, the firm continues to monitor several categories of hate organizations across the United States and files lawsuits on behalf of victims when hate-related events occur. The Wikipedia article about the SPLC includes a list of their most notable cases. As part of their monitoring, the SPLC maintains lists of organizations that conduct hate-related activities. The Hate Map featured on the SPLC website is a visualization of these lists that can be filtered by category and by State. (There is also a Wikipedia article dedicated to maintaining a cumulative listing, but it currently holds only three years of list data.)

What criteria must be met to end up on the map? The answer to that seems to be a bit subjective. The most basic criteria is that a listed organization attacks or maligns a specific class of people. Beyond that, inclusion is handled on a case-by-case basis. In the 2006 Winter Issue of the firm’s magazine Intelligence Report, the twelve (at the time) Radical Traditionalist Catholic groups are described, and it is clearly stated that their primary target is the Jews. The article was posted online in January 2007.

The Catholic List

Of the 917 organizations on the list, fourteen of them are categorized as “Radical Traditional Catholicism”. Here is the list as it appeared in August 2017:

  1. Christ or Chaos [Dr. Thomas A. Droleskeyis, Website]
  2. Culture Wars/Fidelity Press [E. Micheal Jones & James G. Bruen Jr., Website]
  3. Robert Sungenis [Website, Wikipedia]
  4. Catholic Family News / Catholic Family Ministries [Joseph John Vennari, Website, Wikipedia]
  5. Most Holy Family Monastery [Michael Diamond, Website, Wikipedia]
  6. In the Spirit of Chartres Committee [Website]
  7. IHS Press [Website, Wikipedia]
  8. Catholic Counterpoint [John Maffei, Fr. Gregorius Hesse & Fr. John O’Connor, Website]
  9. IHM Media [Website]
  10. Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary [Fr. Leonard Feeney, Website, Wikipedia, Catholicism.org]
  11. Fatima Crusader, The / International Fatima Rosary Crusade [Fr. Nicholas Gruner, Website, Wikipedia]
  12. The Remnant Press [Michael Matt, Website, Wikipedia]
  13. OMNI Christian Book Club [Website]
  14. Tradition In Action (TIA) [Website]

All Wikipedia articles linked above include an indication that the organization in question is included on the SPLC list.

Commonalities

An examination if the organizations’ websites and related information, a number of similarities start to arise:

  • All of the organizations oppose (to some degree) the teachings of the Catholic Church.
  • Almost all of the organizations sympathize with schismatic (e.g. SSPX) or heretical groups.
  • Almost all of the organizations are owned/operated by or are based on the work of single individuals or small groups.
  • Many of them offer literature or share content written by the same authors (e.g. Sungenis, Vennari)
  • Only one organization appears to promote physical activities. The remainder author or publish literature.
  • None of the organizations appear to promote violence.

Wait…what? All of these organizations oppose the Church? Indeed. For those not familiar, there are a number of believers who identify as Catholic but who do not align themselves with the present-day Church. Vatican II was a breaking point for most of them due to its wide-sweeping reform in both the Church’s customs as well as her approach to man’s problems in the modern day. The Latin Mass was no longer the norm (thought by many to be forbidden), church architecture leaned toward the modern, and ecumenism seemed to trump dogma. Some view Pope Pius XII (d. 1958) as the last true Pope and consider all of the Popes that followed to be antipopes. This topic has become a hotbed for Catholesque conspiracy theories written à la Dan Brown.

While ecumenism typically involves building relationships and resolving differences with other Christian denominations (i.e. getting a little too chummy with those Protestant heretics), the post-conciliar Church also boosted its involvement in interfaith dialogue with members of other religions, particularly Jews and Muslims. Traditional Catholics (or “Trad Caths” as they are often called these days) only see this fraternizing as an opportunity to compromise the faith, and thus they label the modern Church and its leadership as traitors against Christ. They speak out vehemently against her, stating in no uncertain terms exactly with whom they do not believe the Church should associate and why. Recall that one criterion for being on the Hate Map is that the organization maligns (syn: defame, slander, vilify, slur and revile) a specific class of people? With that in mind, could it not be said that the literature associated with this movement isn’t only anti-Semitic, but anti-Catholic as well?

The real Catholic Church (headed by the real Pope) does not promote hate of any kind (as it is a mortal sin) and it does not compromise on faith and morals — even if some of its members do. Despite what the Traditionalists believe, the purpose of the Second Vatican Council was not to reshape the Church to conform with the world’s norms, but to understand how the Church could better serve the world in its Catholic ministry. It should also be noted that there are traditionalist Catholic groups on good terms with the Holy See who accept (in spirit anyway) the documents of Vatican II and who have been approved to practice the traditional rites of the Church.

Reaction

It’s hard to believe that anyone would want to be called a racist or a hatemonger, but given their dedication to the cause, it is rational to assume that many wear it as a badge of honor. But is this true of the Radical Traditional Catholic crowd? A few articles I found would suggest the answer is an emphatic no! In Philadelphia Magazine’s 2013 piece What Hate Groups Say About Being Called Hate Groups, Catholic Counterpoint owner John Maffei, the follower of an anti-Semitic renegade priest, denies being a racist, stating that he is simply nostalgic for the way life used to be. Only a few days ago, on August 16th, Micheal Matt of The Remnant defended the 50-year-old newspaper after the local CBS television station in Minnesota, WCCO-TV, attempted to link it with the white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, VA based on the paper’s inclusion on SPLC’s list. He referred to the SPLC as a generator of fake news, which is a popular name for propaganda containing false or misleading information presented in a way that makes it look like real news from authentic sources. Similarly, two days later, Brother André Marie of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary posted Civil Unrest Means Hate Map Time for Lazy Journalists, asserting that the SPLC profits greatly by framing conservative organizations as hate groups and providing false information to journalists and law enforcement, while ignoring leftist extremists. (It seems that the SPLC has cast a few stones in Brother André’s direction as well.)

Conclusion

While it is clearly wrong (indeed, quite sinful) to hate another person or group of people, it is not necessarily wrong to disagree with them. In fact, the right to harbor and even promote differences of opinion is protected by the Constitution of the United States (yeah, that whole First Amendment thing again, with its freedom of speech and religion). A line must be drawn somewhere, and it seems that the primary conflict between the SPLC and the “Radical Traditionalist Catholic” groups is that they don’t agree where that line should be. I invite readers to seek out and review the literature on their own. Does it call for the active extermination of the Jewish people? Or does it lay out in scholarly terms an argument based on hard facts that supports the notion that Jewish beliefs pose a real threat to Christianity? Is it somewhere in between? Does it attack people or ideas? How much of it is based on assumptions and speculation? And where is Dan Brown when you really need him anyway?


August 15, 2017

Great Leaders GROW

Filed under: Book Reviews,Business & Economics,Management,Self Improvement — Brandon @ 4:52 pm

ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-2F2


This is a short review of “Great Leaders GROW: Becoming a Leader for Life” by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller.

The story is straightforward. Blake Brown loses his father, a successful business executive, just as he is about to complete his college degree. He reaches out to Debbie Brewster, a long-time associate of his father, seeking career advice. In a series of one-on-one coaching sessions, she shares with Blake what his father had taught her both by word and example over many years. Meanwhile, Blake lands a job at one of his preferred potential employers, Dynastar, but is assigned to a cold, heartless boss with impossible expectations. With Debbie’s advice as a guide, Blake manages to lead the company out of a bad business position and helps the boss confront a difficult personal situation to boot.

Just in case it wasn’t obvious, “GROW” (rendered in the title in capital letters) is a mnemonic device. It represents four activities that help people become good leaders. Each activity focuses on an area of continuous improvement. They are revealed by Debbie as the story progresses, and while I would love to provide a summary, I feel like I would be taking away the whole purpose of reading the story. If you really must get to the point without taking the time to read, there is a very concise summary of the activities at the end of the book. Also, Blanchard himself gave away the first three (G, R and O) in this 2012 interview with Forbes, and covers all four in a series of ‘blog posts about the book made just prior to its release.

Was it a good read? Yes. As I said, the story was straightforward and easy to follow. The plot and character development was sufficient for a work of this length. In my mind, it played out like a drama-comedy show (sometimes called a dramedy), despite the seriousness of some of the scenes. I mentally cast a young Jason Bateman in the role of Blake (think The Hogan Family, not Horrible Bosses), a conservative Jack Black as Sam, his ne’er-do-well coworker at Dynastar, and Ellen Barkin (Animal Kingdom) as Debbie Brewster. Ms. Barnwell, the impossible boss, was played by one of my former coworkers (who shall remain nameless), but Michelle Monaghan (Made of Honor) or Liv Tyler would be a close visual approximation. Cinematography akin to that used in shows like The Office or Boston Legal accommodated the serious bits, yet allowed for humor, sarcasm, and plenty of those sideways ‘whatever’ glances. I felt that picturing the books’ scenes in this “format” was appropriate given its length; after all, isn’t that what sitcoms are all about? All problems solved in thirty minutes or less?

One side note, many of the summaries, commentaries, and reviews of this book (e.g. Washington Post) contain the same line, stating that Great Leaders GROW “is an instructive fable”. This line is so prolific that I imagine it must come from the authors themselves, in the promotional materials perhaps. It’s a bit of a peeve, but this story is not a fable! There are no talking animals at all in this book! It may be better described as a parable, because, like a fable, there is a lesson to the story — a ‘takeaway’ to use contemporary office vernacular — that can be summed up in the pithy phrase that gives the book its title: Great Leaders GROW.


August 1, 2017

How We Decide / Thinking, Fast & Slow

Filed under: Book Reviews,Psychology — Brandon @ 10:57 am

ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-2E3


I recently picked up two audiobooks from the library, not realizing that they were highly-complimentary works on the same topic: decision theory. Both dig deep into the psychology of the human mind and explain how different functions of the brain play their respective roles in the decision-making process. I listened to Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide first. I was immediately captivated by Lehrer’s storytelling delivered by narrator David Colacci in the matter-of-fact tone of a national nightly news anchor. Being a layman in this area, I decided the work is, if nothing else, very interesting. Kahneman’s work in Thinking, Fast and Slow reinforced and surpassed Lehrer’s, covering more information and in more detail, requiring more time and mental effort to listen to and digest. Patrick Egan’s narration was consistent but didn’t hold my attention as Colacci had. Both authors lean on investigations and experiments in the study of psychology to paint a picture of the human mind for the reader.

One concept covered in depth by both authors is the idea that decisions are made in one of two ways, either by intuition or through cognitive reasoning. Lehrer refers to these modes of decision-making as emotional and rational respectively, whereas Kahneman simply (and admittedly arbitrarily) labels them as System 1 and System 2. Emotional decisions are the ones that just “feel” right, even if rational thought seems to dictate a different position. Similarly, System 1 thinks “fast” and makes decisions based on a set of experience-born heuristics, whereas System 2 thinks “slowly” and is engaged explicitly when a problem requires any measure of conscious thought. This is not to say that the use of one system over the other is strictly dictated by the problem domain, say for example, solving math problems. Kahneman points out that anyone who knows basic arithmetic can visually scan the problem “2+2” and the answer will immediately come to mind thanks to System 1, but being presented with a multiplication problem involving two two-digit numbers requires the application of math rules, which falls squarely in the realm of System 2. Both authors explore the nuances of this segregation of mental duties, though Kahneman is careful to point out that this dichotomy is a convenient way to help classify mental functions but is not indicative of the literal existence of two separate systems or that one part of the brain is solely responsible for this function and another part for that function, etc. While this concept is the focus of Lehrer’s book, it must be noted that Kahneman covers additional topics in his.

Honestly, I am not an expert in psychology and thus not qualified to assess the correctness or completeness of either work, but I found them both very interesting (as a layman), and felt that both authors were successful in introducing the subject matter to a broader audience. I felt quite satisfied after finishing Lehrer’s book, having listened to it first, and I wonder if this would have been the case had I done so in the reverse order. If I had to recommend only one for the casual listener, it would have to be the Lehrer/Colacci book as the presentation is much cleaner and easier to listen to. There is a big caveat with that recommendation, however. In researching the particulars for this review, I discovered that Lehrer’s book, which was published in 2009 was subsequently recalled by publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2013 due to a substantial number of errors and plagiarized passages. Obviously, the recall did not extend its reach to extant copies available in library collections and the book is still available for sale online. Upon further investigation, I learned that some (if not most) of the lifted passages constituted self-plagiarism, also known as “recycling fraud”; however, there was at least one part of Kahneman’s book that I felt sure (System 1) I had heard before, a feeling I initially dismissed as déjà vu, but that now I realize (System 2) may have been one example of Lehrer’s plagiarism. (I do not have the time or inclination to go back to the audio now to find it, so I will leave that depth of research for someone who does.) Having said that, Thinking, Fast and Slow wasn’t published until 2011, but Kahneman does reference a lot of his own prior work, much of which was performed and published with his good friend and research partner, Amos Tversky. In the synopsis on the back of the CD case for Lehrer’s book is the statement, “Jonah Lehrer arms us with the tools we need, drawing on cutting edge research by Daniel Kahneman…and others…”. Scientific American published a short opinion on the matter titled How We Decide (To Falsify), a witty little piece about Lehrer’s other problematic book, Imagine, that explains how scientists can (for a variety of reasons) choose to rely on intuition instead of hard facts, and may resort to fabricating data. The article subtly infers that Lehrer chose poorly when fabricating quotes (possibly under the pressure of a deadline) when both his training as a scientist and the subject matter of his second book should have helped him make a better, more professional, and more ethical decision.


April 14, 2017

The Future Workplace Experience

ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-2vj


This is a short review of The Future Workplace Experience: 10 Rules for Mastering Disruption in Recruiting and Engaging Employees, written by Jeanne C. Meister and Kevin J. Mulcahy and narrated by Nancy Linari.

Is your company keeping up with the trends of the modern workplace? Have you found that you have been unable to retain new hires in recent years? Times are changing and so is the workforce. The benefits people seek in their careers are different than what they were even a decade ago. This book will help you assess how your company fares in the task of providing an awesome workplace experience and will open your eyes as to what it should (and should not) be doing to attract, engage, and retain good workers in the modern labor economy.

The ten rules mentioned in the subtitle are:

  • Make the Workplace an Experience
  • Use Space to Promote Culture
  • Be an Agile Leader
  • Consider Technology an Enabler and a Disrupter
  • Build a Data-Driven Recruiting Ecosystem
  • Embrace On-Demand Learning
  • Tap the Power of Multiple Generations
  • Build Gender Equality
  • Plan for More Gig Economy Workers
  • Be a Workplace Activist

I have personally watched — and in some cases, contributed — to the implementation of some of these ideas in real-world settings, and from what I can tell, the authors are pretty much spot-on in their recommendations. The book is packed with a ton of case studies and research findings that support not only the direction of the trends, but also the efficacy of the changes. Even though I am not a Human Resources professional, I found the proposal and discussion of these rules to be not only interesting but useful. Now some of the things that I’ve seen changing around me make much more sense. The first — and I would classify it as the most fundamental — rule about making the workplace an experience has caused me to have an entirely new outlook with regard to my own career potential and sources of motivation.

Growing up, I perceived that there were basically two roads to success: the corporate ladder and the self-made man (sorry ladies, rule #8 wasn’t in full effect back then). The former seemed like the better way to acquire wealth, but most have to settle for not finishing their careers at (or even near) the top, which always seemed a little sad to me. On the latter path, you start at the top (e.g. opening a corner grocery, like Mr. Hooper on Sesame Street), but there’s only so much monetary reward that can be gained, and of course, I eventually learned about capital and investors and such, and being either bought out or put out of business by the competition didn’t seem very satisfying either. In recent years I’ve come to realize that the legacy you leave doesn’t have to be about how much inheritance you leave for your children, or the possibility that the company may someday name a building after you, or even that the grocery store you created may eventually grow into a huge chain of stores. All things perish, and the best you can truly hope for is that you are able to inspire others. “Others” may include your children, friends, colleagues, clients — whoever gets to hear your greatest stories. And great stories are made from great experiences. Sometimes you can craft your own experiences, but the authors of this book understand that companies that are not actively trying to assist you in that endeavor don’t perform as well today and are therefore less likely to exist tomorrow.

The other rules are also important to understanding the modern American labor market and how HR must help guide companies in this realm. I find the concept of using work space to drive a culture of collaboration and creativity absolutely fascinating. So-called “gig workers” have been around for some time, but I had no idea that this arrangement had become nearly as popular as it reportedly is today. As an active member of a workplace diversity team, I am very familiar with issues surrounding age and gender gaps and how they can lead not only to ineffectivity but also discrimination. And, if not for continuous on-demand training, well, I wouldn’t be writing this book review right now. The attitude of the authors toward continuous learning is precisely what drives me to share my life learning experiences via this ‘blog.

There are two things I didn’t care for in this book and I think they are related. First, I didn’t care for the narration (I listened to the audiobook format). I looked up Nancy Linari online and discovered that she is an actress and acting teacher. I’m not familiar with her work at all, so I watched a few clips online, and I can’t count this as one of her best performances. Her delivery is a little too steady. Overall, I felt like she was just reading a script and that she wasn’t really all that interested in the material herself. The other thing I didn’t care for was the name dropping, list upon list of companies doing this or that. As I said, I’m not an HR professional, so any anecdotal value the uttering of a particular string of company names is supposed to have was completely lost on me. The inclusion of these references became annoying and the narration did little to help in this regard. Linari’s tone would change in just a certain way and I would tell myself, “oh no, not another list”.

In all, though, it was a valuable read. Part of continuous learning is recognizing when that which you have learned in the past — through either study or experience — has become outdated. It is better both psychologically and for your career to learn new things like those discussed in this book outright and to adjust than to allow yourself to become rigid and set in the old ways of doing things.


March 24, 2017

What Does “Catholic” Mean Anyway?

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My recent post covering the five Epistles of Ignatious of Antioch to the Churches in Asia gave rise to some interesting discussions online, including one about the origin of the word “Catholic”. I knew the general answer, that the word means “universal” and that Ignatius was indeed the earliest author to use it, but I wasn’t satisfied with that. I wanted to dig deeper. Here is the result of my research.


Ignatius of Antioch

A discourse on the meaning of the word ‘catholic’ would hardly be complete without some mention of Saint Ignatius of Antioch who used it to describe the Church in his letter to the Smyrnæans in approximately A.D. 108. His message to the believers in Smyrna was clear: be subject to your bishop in all things concerning belief. This is the earliest known writing in which the Church is referred to as ‘universal’ and that leads many people to the conclusion that Ignatius was the first to give the Church her name, or at least the first to coin the phrase. Nothing in the text, however, supports the hypothesis that Ignatius was trying to do either. It appears more likely that he was using a common adjective to describe the whole body of believers everywhere, and that the phrase caught on amongst early Christian writers.

Here is an excerpt taken from the eighth chapter of Ignatius’ letter to the Smyrnæans (taken from NewAdvent.org). The key line of interest has been emphasized and the phrase Catholic Church rendered in bold:

Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. [Smyrnæans 8]

Here is the emphasized line in Greek (from TextExcavation), again with Catholic Church in bold:

οπου αν φανη ο επισκοπος, εκει το πληθος εστω, ωσπερ οπου αν η Χριστος Ιησους, εκει η καθολικη εκκλησια.

I would take the time to provide a word-for-word translation of the entire excerpt, but it’s not really necessary for this discussion. There are online lexicons and translators for that purpose, so if you are not familar with Greek, now might be a good time to check out some of these tools.

εκκλησια

Let’s start with the noun in this phrase. This is the less controversial of the two words. Almost always rendered in English as ‘church’, the word ekklēsía really just means assembly or gathering, as in a group of people assembled together. It was the term used to refer to the principal assembly of the Athenian democracy over 400 years before Christ walked the Earth. So, which assembly of believers Ignatius is talking about? Since the letter was written for the Chirstians in Smyrna, is he only referring to that assembly? Obviously, no. Ignatius clarified his message by modifying this noun with the adjective καθολικη.

καθολικη

This adjective is actually a combination of two root words: κατά (katá) + ὅλος (hólos). According to Strong’s Concordance, κατά (2596) is a preposition that can have various meanings, such as “down from”, “throughout”, and “according to”. Likewise, ὅλος (3650) is an adjective that means “all”, “whole”, or “entire”. Note how the words are combined into a single adjective, καθολικη. When used to modify the word ekklēsía, one might read the phrase as “according to the entire assembly” or “throughout the whole church”. It requires no stretch of thought to see why the word “universal” is used in translation.

To take this one step further, please note the spelling of the word. The suffix identifies the word’s declension, which is a fancy way of saying number, case, and gender in a single word. Taking a glance at the Wiktionary entry for καθολικός, we can easily determine that for three grammatical cases, this variant of the word modifies a female noun (which εκκλησια is) and is singluar. Ignatius is talking about one church. This implies a level of unity beyond that of the local church and her bishop. Ignatius did not consider the Christian communities to be a loose federation of independent congregations, at least when it came to matters of faith.

Another Look

Now that we have examined the key words in question, let’s reconstruct the line in English based on the Greek above. Again, I am not going to explain every word as they can easily be referenced online. I used the Greek Dictionary Headword Search engine in the Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University to translate the line as follows:

The place where lights the bishop, there the multitude is one; even as, where is Christ Jesus, there is the whole assembly throughout.

Ignatius is clearly drawing an analogy that makes perfect sense in his plea for the Churches in Asia to remain in unity with their respective bishops who are, themselves, in unity insofar as the teaching of the faith is concerned. What’s more, this concept of the whole assembly of believers being ever-present with Christ is an expression of what Mircea Eliade would call sacred time and space, though whether Ignatius intended to convey this idea or if it was a product of divine inspiration will be left for discussion at another time.

Word Usage

Some make the argument that Ignatius coined the word καθολικη, based primarily on the observation that the word is not used in the Bible to describe the Church…in fact, it doesn’t appear at all in the Bible. (Such people also tend to be Fundamentalist Christians who only know the word “Catholic” as a proper name and who want to prove that the Church’s universal authority is illegitimate by claiming that Ignatius invented the word after the age of the Apostles and therefore it isn’t “Biblical”.) However, if the word καθολικη (or more properly, καθολικός) existed prior to the time of Christ and the Apostles (and was even found to be commonly used), then there should be instances of it in other Greek texts that predate the New Testament. Whether or not these texts are part of Sacred Scripture is, of course, immaterial, but it never hurts to start there.

The words κατά (2596) and ὅλος (3739) both appear numerous times in the New Testament (480 and 1411 respectively). The word καθό (2526), which means “according to”, is found four times (Rom 8:26, twice in 2 Cor 8:12, and 1 Peter 4:13). The word καθόλου (2527), which is an adverb meaning “entirely” or “at all”, is found once, in Acts 4:18: they instructed them not to teach at all in the name of Jesus. Browsing through Hatch & Redpath’s 1897 Concordance to the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), a similar pattern emerges: many references to the root words, a handful to καθό and καθόλου, and none for καθολικός. So, the root words and some similar words appear in the Bible, but the specific usage we are seeking here is not present.

A search of other Greek texts proves to be more fruitful. Again, using the Greek Dictionary Headword Search engine in the Perseus Digital Library, a search for words starting with καθολ resulted in over sixty hits across eleven works. Nine instances were found in the Histories of Polybius (200-118 B.C.), two of which concern making a “general assertion” (καθολικῆς ἀποφάσεως). The geopgrapher Strabo (63 B.C.-A.D.24; thus immediately prior to Jesus’ public ministry) used it in his work on Geography. The excerpt …ὥστ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ἔνεστι καθολικῶς εἰπεῖν ἐπὶ τῶν ἀπεριλήπτων τὸ πλῆθος… [Strab. 17.3] is translated in the accompanying English translation as “…so that it cannot be asserted generally of places indefinite in number…”, but could probably be reduced to “…it cannot be generally said…” So much for the notion that Ignatius was the original inventor of this word.

There are examples of the word being used by writers contemporary to Ignatius as well. The Stoic Philosopher Epictetus (A.D. 50-135) used the word six times in his Discourses. One sample drawn from that work is καθολικοῦ μέμνησο [book2, chapter 2], which is rendered in the accompanying English version as “Remember, then, the general rule…” but which could probably be simplified as “Remember generally…”. In a work called Tetrabiblos by Claudius Ptolemy (A.D. 100-170; yes, the same Ptolemy famous for his geocentric model of the universe), there can be found thirteen separate instances of the word with usages similar to those found in Polybius, such as to describe a calling, a custom, etc. Two more instances can be found in M. Antonius Imperator Ad Se Ipsum by Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121-180). And so on and so forth. Even if the Perseus Digital Library contains a complete collection of ancient Greek texts, there is proof enough that the compound word καθολικός was common in ancient Greek texts, making Ignatius’ single use of it even less extraordinary.

Incidentally, the largest number of search hits (21 occurences) arose from the Church History according to Eusebius (~A.D. 260-341), six modifing the “assembly” (same usage as Ignatius), four in reference to letters or letter writers (i.e. epistles, as in the Catholic Epistles of Peter, Jude, James, and John), and the remainder modifying various other words to describe general knowledge, direction, order, etc. So, while this adjective was starting to grow in usage, it was still not used to refer exclusively to the Church, even in the Fourth Centruy writings of the Church Fathers.

Conclusion

Ignatius was not attempting to give a name to a universal church, or to coin a new phrase, but was simply using a common adjective to describe the collective of all Christian believers everywhere. In the long run, of course, that is what eventually happened. “Catholic Church” is a proper name that, today, specifically identifies an assembly of people around the world that is rooted in a common belief, and whose “headquarters” (if you want to call it that) is located in Rome. It is slightly more complicated than that, of course, because the Roman Church is just one of many that belong to this more universal collection of Churches, but then, this makes Ignatius’ message even more understandable for modern Catholics.

Addendum: New Questions

Doing this research has brought to mind two additional questions that will make for some interesting study in the future.

First, at what point in history did the word ‘Catholic’ become part of the proper name of the Church, and thus an adjective that exclusively associates whatever it modifies as belonging to the same? One might expect to find this usage prevailent in the writings of the Protestant Reformers and possibly even in Catholic writings in the years leading up to the Reformation. I have seen some claims online that explain how the Church didn’t have to qualify itself as Catholic until Protestant thought became widespread and uncontrollable. Perhaps this was the same reason καθολικός became so popular amongst the Church Fathers, as they were often combating the early heresies and wrote about how these strange beliefs contradicted the Church’s universal teachings.

Second, why does καθολικός not appear in Sacred Scripture? This may be much harder to answer, as it requires a deep understanding of ancient Greek and how the language evolved over time. It may have to do with the level of sophistication with which the various authors wrote. All of the examples given above where the word appears are from works written by scholars, philosophers, scientists, and even an Emperor! Their education, and thus their, command of the Greek language was undoubtedly superior to those common men who roughly incribed the stories of the Apostles while in hiding for fear of Roman persecution. Likewise, translation of ancient Hebrew writings, most of which had already been passed from age to age as oral traditions, into Greek may have dictated the use of simple language.

Perhaps these questions have already been answered in some scholarly works just waiting for me to discover.


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