Brandon's Notepad

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?

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


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.


March 15, 2017

Ignatius’ Asian Epistles

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Home > My Research > Christianity > Early Church Fathers > Ignatius’ Asian Epistles


Synopsis

Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr of the early Church, wrote to several Churches in Asia, imploring the faithful to remain united with the teachings of their bishops.

Authorship

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, while imprisoned and in transport to Rome in about the year A.D. 108, wrote letters to several Christian communities in Asia. Three of these letters (to the Churches in Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles) were written while he was imprisoned in Smyrna, and two (to the Churches in Philadelphia and Smyrna) were written after he was transported to Troas. Full authenticity of the contents of these letters is not generally accepted; however, the most egregious embellishments can be identified and removed using copies of the letters from different ages and sources. The original letters and contemporary copies have been lost to antiquity.

Summary

The following is a summary of the major points addressed in each letter:

Ephesians Magnesians Trallians

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Ephesians
  • Praise of their Bishop
  • Praise of their Deacon, others
  • Remain united with the Bishop
  • Denounce hypocrisy
  • Be an example through prayer and works
  • Give thanks to God often
  • Statement on faith and love
  • Statement on silence
  • Warning against false doctrine
  • The advent of Christ
  • Promise to write again
  • Request for prayers

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Magnesians
  • Praise of their Bishop, Priests, Deacon
  • Honor the bishop despite his youth
  • Disobedience mocks God, earns death
  • Remain united with your Bishop
  • Avoid Judaizing
  • Be united in doctrine and deed
  • Request for prayers

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Trallians
  • Be subject to the Bishop
  • Honor the Deacons
  • Humility in writing
  • Avoid heresy
  • Avoid temptation
  • History of Christ
  • More praise of the Trallians
  • Request for prayers
Philadelphians Smyrnæans

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Philadelphians
  • Praise of their Bishop
  • Remain united with the Bishop
  • Avoid schismatics
  • Request for prayers
  • Avoid Judaizing
  • Praise of the Gospel over the Law
  • End of persecution
  • Thanks to certain persons

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Smyrnæans
  • Avoid heresy, which leads to death
  • Remain united with the Bishop
  • Honor the bishop
  • A word of thanks
  • Request to sent message to Antioch

Observations

Pauline Style. The style in which Ignatius writes is strikingly similar to that used by Paul. An elaborate greeting, followed by some commentary on the community to which he is writing, followed then by some order of business to discuss, etc. Compare the contents of the first three Ignatian epistles to, say, the opening paragraphs of 1st Corinthians.

The Saint John Connection. All five churches are in western Asia (modern-day Turkey). Three of the churches (Ephesus, Smyrna, and Philadelphia) are of the seven mentioned in the Apocolypse of Saint John (a.k.a. the Book of Revelation). Patmos, the island where John was exiled, is just off the coast. Tradition tells us that John wrote his three (Biblical) epistles while living in Ephesus and his Apocolypse while on Patmos. Both Ignatius (Bishop of Antioch) and Polycarp (Bishop of Smyrna) are believed to have been disciples of John.

Unity. The underlying theme running throughout Ignatius’ Asian epistles is the importance of unity within the Christian communities. To Ignatius, this was manifest in maintaining unity with “the bishop and the presbytery” (the latter referring to the collection of priests that serve the bishop of course). This is an extension of Paul’s proclamation that there should be no divisions amongst Christians (1 Cor. 1:10+).

Ignatius uses strong words to emphasize this urgent need for unity. He likens obedience to the bishop to obedience to Christ himself and declares that the disobedient man separates himself from the Church and thereby condemns himself. Consider the following exceprts:

It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ…that by a unanimous obedience you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing, and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified. [Ephesians 2]

Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. […] He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. [Ephesians 5]

It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. [Ephesians 6]

It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honor of Him who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not…the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible. [Magnesians 3]

…while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons…Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality. [Magnesians 6]

…let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ,…and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and the assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church. [Trallians 3]

Wherefore, as children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doctrines; but where the shepherd is, there follow as sheep. [Philadephians 2]

For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop. [Philadephians 8]

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]

In these bold words of Ignatius we find the roots of basic Catholic concepts, such as the Magisterium, the ordinary authority of the bishops, and latae sententiae excommunication, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Knowing the Community by the Bishops. While imprisoned in Smyrna, Ignatius was visited by delegations from at least three Christian communities. It is notable that these delegations included not just priests and deacons, but the local bishop as well! He apparently spent time talking with these men about their flocks and he makes it a point to mention in his letters that he “knows” them through their bishops. It may be a reflection of the translation, but his words seem to imply a deeper relationship and not just a surface knowledge of them. Consider the following excerpts:

I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus…your bishop… [Ephesians 1]

…I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas your most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters…and through [the] deacon… [Magnesians 2]

I know that you possess an unblameable and sincere mind…as Polybius your bishop has shown me, who has come to Smyrna…that I beheld your whole multitude in him. [Trallians 1]

This language reinforces the unity found within these early Christian communities and the notion that the faithful are bound up to their bishop who is not only God’s representative to them, but their representative to God and to others.

For reference, here is a list of the names of the clergy and other visitors:

  • Ephesians: Onesimus (Bp), Burrhus (Dcn), Crocus, Euplus, Fronto
  • Magnesians: Damas (Bp, Bassus (Pr), Apollonius (Pr), Sotio (Dcn)
  • Trallians: Polybius (Bp)
  • Philadelphians: unnamed bishop
  • Smyrna: Polycarp, though not named in this letter

Dissenters. Unity with the bishop and the presytery isn’t important for the sake of simple affiliation. It is the way in which the faith is preserved and transmitted. Ignatius warns the Asian Churches about several types of dissenters, those who stray from the teachings of Christ and the Apostles as it is communicated through the bishops.

The first type of dissenter is the hypocrite, one who professes to be a follower of Jesus but who does not live a life in accordance with his teachings.

For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom you must flee as you would wild beasts. [Ephesians 7]

It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts. [Ephesians 15]

It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing that they are not steadfastly gathered according to the commandment. [Magnesians 4]

Another type is the heretic, teacher of false doctrine. Some of Ignatius’ warnings are generic, as is the case with the passages below. It may be harsh to hear that heresy ultimately destroys both the heretic and his followers, but this is the same warning issued by Saint Peter in his second encyclical (2 Peter 2:1-3) and even by Christ himself (Mt 18:6, Mk 9:42, Lk 17:2).

Nevertheless, I have heard of some who have passed on from this to you, having false doctrine, whom you did not allow to sow among you, but stopped your ears, that you might not receive those things which were sown by them… [Ephesians 9]

…how much more shall this be the case with anyone who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God…such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him. [Ephesians 16]

I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that you use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a different kind; I mean heresy. [Trallians 6]

In the category of heretics, we must include the Judeaizers who sought to bring the faithful Gentiles under the yoke of the Mosaic law. Paul writes at length about such heretics in his letter to the Galatians (the whole letter is about this) and to a lesser extent in his letter to the Ephesians (chapters 2-3). The Incident at Antioch (yes, the same Antioch in Syria where Ignatius eventually served as bishop) which led to the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15) is the event that prompted Paul to issue such warnings.

Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace. For the divinest prophets lived according to Christ Jesus. [Magnesians 8]

If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day…how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their teacher? [Magnesians 9]

For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. [Magnesians 10]

But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who has been circumsised, than to Judaism from one uncircumcised. But if either…do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are in my judgment but as monuments and sepulchres of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men. [Philadelphians 6]

Likewise, Ignatius mentions in several of the letters that there are some who believe that Jesus did not suffer and die at all, but that his body was merely an illusion. The heresy is called Docetism and its proponents would eventually come to be known as the Docetæ. Trallians 9-11 is one example, but his lengthiest treatment on this particular heresy is in Smyrnæans 2-7.

Unique to the letter to the Philadelphians, Ignatius advises the faithful to avoid those who seek to divide the Church. These dissenters are called schismatics.

If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ]. [Philadephians 3]

References

All quotes above came from the letters as they appear on NewAdvent.org.


March 7, 2017

Tea & Coffee 2017

Filed under: Coffee,Food & Drink,Tea — Brandon @ 6:50 pm

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Home > My Lists > Food & Drink > Tea > 2017


My tea and coffee journal for A.D. 2017. Any prices listed are per pound.


Table of Contents

#1 Combined Journals


Journal Entries

#1 – March 7, 2017 – Combined Journals
I decided to combine my tea and coffee journals this year, mainly so that I don’t have two separate posts to maintain, but also because I think some of those who benefit from my reviews of one might enjoy read about the other. And who knows? Maybe combining audiences might spur some interesting commentary on my Twitter feed. I know there are folks out there that will happily debate which is better, coffee or tea. In any case, I already have some tastings planned for 2017, so let’s get this (tea…or coffee) party started.


February 17, 2017

The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX)

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I was first introduced to The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) by a colleague at work. Our training department provides the opportunity for employees to host book reviews as part of our continuing education, and since my colleague found this book very useful in setting and attaining his own professional goals, he shared his experiences with the rest of the company and continues to advocate the adoption of 4DX by other teams. I too have found it useful; thus, I am sharing it with you.


Summary

The 4 Disciplines of Execution is the title of a book by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling, published in 2012 by Free Press. In it, the authors propose a new strategy for accomplishing new goals and producing better results. The problem with any initiative aimed at improvement is that it must give way to the day’s business, what the authors call the “whirlwind.” To use an age-old analogy, they simmer on the back burner while the pot in the front is watched to make sure it doesn’t boil over, and when mealtime approaches, the food in the back is often either burnt to a crisp in an attempt to make up for lost cooking time or never finished at all. How can one manage to maintain steady progress toward attaining their goals without these risks?

The 4 Disciplines themselves are covered in detail in the first section of the book. In a nutshell, they are as follows:

Discipline 1: Focus on the Wildly Important
The first discipline is all about setting goals. The key is set just a few of them, only one or two if possible. If you have too many goals, it is impossible to focus on them all and nothing gets done. Having only one or two will help ensure that you can stay aware of what they are.

Discipline 2: Act on Lead Measures
Most people focus on outcomes, but if you want to drive progress toward achieving a goal, it is much more effective to measure the inputs. A textbook example used by the authors (and everyone else; the “Hello World” of productivity) is weight loss. Don’t measure the pounds. Measure caloric intake and hours of exercise. Outcomes are typically predictable if the right inputs are identifiable, measurable, and controllable.

Discipline 3: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard
If you are serious about achieving a goal, you must know where you stand at all times. A compelling scoreboard that is easy to update and understand improves motivation. The scoreboard must have both form and function.

Discipline 4: Create a Cadence of Accountability
Holding yourself accountable usually means communicating progress to another person or group, preferably on a frequent basis. If there are no consequences for performance (or lack thereof) then the goal becomes meaningless and forgettable.

The authors go into much more detail and cover some important tips and pitfalls, some of which are not obvious or intuitive. After all, if the process was just this simple, it wouldn’t have taken eighty-two pages to describe it. The second section provides practical advice on how to install the Four Disciplines in a team setting, and third on how to roll them out to an entire organization. The latter part of the book contains interesting case studies and answers to some frequently asked questions.

Observations

It stands to reason that people and organizations that perform repetitive tasks have a lot to gain from this approach. Take sales for example: the number of customer contacts made in a period of time may be a good lead measure that can predict sales outcomes. Changes in process can then be focused on improving the lead measures first and foremost, and only when the point of diminishing returns is reached should focus be changed to a less-impactful measure.

This does not mean that the approach is limited to granular homogeneous tasks only. One team at my office — the team my colleague is in — is already building the 4 Disciplines into their departmental operations this year. Their work is analytical and more-or-less project-based. There is not a lot of granular work as you would find in, say, a factory or call center; however, they do gather a variety of metrics and are always looking for ways to streamline their procedures. Their first step is to identify which procedures have the biggest impact on their workload and then to figure out how to identify and manipulate the lead measures to produce a positive outcome, to shorten total project time for example.

It seems quite incidental that my company is also changing its approach to employee development, and that while it is not based specifically on 4DX, the two seem to fit hand-in-glove with one another. In fact, I’ve already decided to manage the progress of my own training and performance goals this year using the 4DX methodology.

I have experimented some with 4DX on a completely personal level, mainly to get a feel for the nuts and bolts of it. In my opinion, one of the toughest parts of the process is identifying the lead measures — which are not always obvious. It’s a matter of finding the input(s) that have the highest correlation coefficient to the desired output, to borrow some terms from statistics. Also, it is important to recognize that outputs aren’t always singular, and that optimizing one output may have a devastating effect on another. Going back to the weight loss example, consuming minimal calories may do wonders for reaching the desired weight, but at the risk of suffering malnutrition.

Recommendation

I definitely recommend this book, and to be honest, I can’t wait to start using the methodology in a more professional capacity. The funny thing is that, as I sat here in our corporate library editing and polishing this post today, another colleague came in looking for a book. She asked if I had read any of them and if I had any suggestions. I immediately recommended the 4DX book, as there are still several copies left on the shelf. I told her that it would be instantly applicable to her work and relayed to her that I was planning on using it for managing my performance goals. She walked away with a copy in hand and a smile on her face. I will have to follow up with her in a few days to see what she thinks.


February 10, 2017

Crippled America

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This is a short review of Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, written by Donald J. Trump.

The election is over and Trump has been inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America. A lot of people are worried about what he is going to do next. Is he really going to build that wall on our southern border? Is he really going to deport all illegal aliens? What about the Second Amendment? Taxes? Health Care?

The good news is, he’s already told you what he’s going to do. That is, of course, if you’ve read his book. Originally published in 2015 under the title “Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again”, the name was changed in 2016 to “Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America”. This book embodies Trump’s platform as a presidential candidate, and it is his play book now that he’s in office. The best part (for everyone’s sake) is that the book actually makes him sound sane.

Want an example? In chapter three, Trump addresses his campaign promise to build a wall along our southern border to help stop the inflow of foreigners entering the country illegally. He starts by describing what he said in his speeches and how the media spun the story to make him look as anti-immigration as possible. He then sets the record straight, firmly stating in no uncertain terms that he is absolutely not against immigration, but is very much in favor of legal immigration. He also covers a bit of history, explaining how Cuba, Mexico, and other countries in Latin America have taken advantage of The United States’ generous reception of immigrants as a way to offload their own countries of undesirables. [Note: I have not fact-checked his claims at the time of this writing, but he references some fairly-specific events that should be easy enough to substantiate.] Moreover, he qualifies his vision of a new great wall with the admission that it will not be a single wall. “It doesn’t have to cover the entire border. Some areas are already secured with physical barriers. In other areas, the terrain is too difficult for people to cross.” (p. 24) In other words, its not really about building a single, massive wall, but about fortifying areas that are completely exposed. He notes that several States have already built walls for this purpose, and that even Mexico has built a wall to prevent immigrants from spilling over its own southern border. As for Mexico paying for the new wall, Trump does not intend to send them an invoice and hope they cough up the cash. It would be more accurate to say that the Mexican economy will pay for it, not the government. That is, of course, unless the Mexican government would like to improve relations with the U.S. Trump is a shrewd businessman and he understands money. It would be foolish to underestimate his knowledge of economics.

It would also be foolish to assume this is a completely accurate, much less, objective treatise on his views and ideas. After all, he wrote the book, so it is by definition a subjective work. In terms of accuracy, I am not implying that he has been dishonest in what he has written, but there are far too few pages in the book to adequately cover the spectrum of decisions and scenarios that he will face in the next four years. He can only hang his hat on campaign promises for so long, especially since he seems bent on fulfilling as many as possible in the first hundred days in office. Trump appears to be very transparent and he likes to keep things simple, but the life and work of the President is anything but simple. And just maybe we should be more concerned about what he hasn’t divulged than about what he has already told us.

Overall, it was a good, informative read, and depending on what kind of voice you use to narrate in your head, it was also entertaining. One of the most interesting bits in my opinion is how he describes his relationship with the media as “mutually profitable” and “two-way”. (p. 11) Someone with a bigger vocabulary might have selected the word “symbiotic”. I think the following excerpt goes a long way in explaining why Trump behaves the way he does:

“I don’t mind being attacked. I use the media the way the media uses me — to attract attention. Once I have that attention, it’s up to me to use it to my advantage. I learned a long time ago that if you’re not afraid to be outspoken, the media will write about you or beg you to come on their shows. If you do things a little differently, if you say outrageous things and fight back, they love you. So sometimes I make outrageous comments and give them what they want — viewers and readers — in order to make a point. […] The cost of a full-page ad in the New York Times can be more than $100,000. But when they write a story about one of my deals, it doesn’t cost me a cent, and I get more important publicity.” (p. 10-11)

Still wondering why he chose Steve Bannon as his Assistant and Chief Strategist?

I read the book just prior to election day. It seemed a little late to post a review, since no one would have a chance to take my recommendation and read it before casting a vote. But now, with the Left in a tizzy over what the orange, Fascist, racist hate-monger (their words, not mine) will do to dismantle Obama’s legacy and posture the United States as the planet’s ultimate and totally self-serving superpower, it seems more appropriate than ever to reveal what he has already told us.


January 23, 2017

Martyrium Ignatii

Filed under: Christianity — Brandon @ 10:18 am
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Home > My Research > Christianity > Early Church Fathers > Martyrium Ignatii


Synopsis

The Martyrium Ignatii (“Martyrdom of Ignatius”) provides details about the trial of Ignatius of Antioch before Emperor Trajan, his transport to Rome by way of Smyrna and Troas, and his execution in the Roman arena as he was fed to the beasts.

Authorship

This account is written from the perspective of one who accompanied Ignatius from Antioch to Rome, possibly Philo, a deacon from Tarsus, and Rheus Agathopus from Syria. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, scholars generally agree that the narrative is authentic, but since the earliest reliable copy is a revision with its earliest witness in the Tenth Century, it is also believed to be highly interpolated.

Summary

Here are the main points covered in this document:

  • Ignatius, disciple of John the Apostle, was bishop of the Church in Antioch (Syria).
  • He guided his Church through the persecutions under Domitian and survived.
  • He longed for a closer relationship with Christ through martyrdom.
  • Emperor Trajan forced Christians to choose to worship Roman gods or be killed.
  • In his ninth year as Emperor, Trajan was passing through Antioch on conquest.
  • Trajan questioned Ignatius about his religious disobedience and influence.
  • When Ignatius confirmed his devotion to Christ, he was sentenced to fight the beasts in Rome.
  • He was transported from Antioch to Seleucia, and then by sea to Smyrna.
  • He visited his former disciple, Polycarp, who was now the Bishop of Smyrna.
  • He was also visited by bishops, priests, and deacons from various cities in Asia.
  • To repay their hospitality, Ignatius wrote to the cities, giving praise and instruction.
  • They sailed to Troas and Neapolis, then traveled by land to Philippi and Epirus in West Macedonia.
  • From there they sailed to Rome, skipping Puteoli; thus, Ignatius could not follow in Paul’s steps.
  • Landing in Portus, he prayed with the brethren for the end of persecution, and was thrown into the arena.
  • His bones were collected, wrapped in linen, and returned to Antioch.
  • The authors of this account assert that, after his death, Ignatius visited each of them one night in their dreams.

Observations

  • External sources seem to agree that the letters to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, and Romans were written in Smyrna, and the letters to the Philadelphians, Smyrnæans, and to Polycarp were written in Troas.
  • According to Chapter Four, this account originally included a copy of Ignatius’ letter to the Romans. (This makes sense, as the authors returned to Antioch from Rome with Ignatius’ bones, and could have obtained or produced a copy there.)

January 21, 2017

Scottish Cathedral Permits Koranic Recitation

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News broke last week about a cathedral in Scotland that permitted the recitation of a Surah from al Qur’an during the evening Epiphany service. To be clear, this was the Episcopal (i.e. Anglican) Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, not the Presbyterian (i.e. Church of Scotland) Glasgow Cathedral. I soon found some still photos and then the video on YouTube (the highest-quality copy of which has since been removed). In them a young Muslim woman stands at a lectern shaped like an eagle as she sings in Arabic. Just beyond her sit a priest and the chancel choir in the transept of a beautiful old church. The sacred vessels are prepared and the rood screen adorned with strands of twinkling electric Christmas lights.

At first, I took this to mean that the Gospel reading (at what Catholics and many Anglicans would call a “Mass”) had been replaced with the Koranic account of the Annunciation and Nativity of Jesus, which is found in the nineteenth Surah (chapter) titled Maryam (Mary). This would, of course, undermine the very purpose of attending the Service, which is to hear the Word of God, receive some practical instruction in the faith based on those readings (the sermon), give thanks to God for his salvific work through his Son (the Eucharist), and then be sent out into the world to proclaim the good news to others. The Gospel message rests at the core of this mission. It is unthinkable to supplant the very basis of a Christian’s work with a non-Christian text.

Thankfully, this was not the case. True, the recitation was made during the Eucharistic service at Epiphany, but according to Provost Kelvin Holdsworth’s blog, the Eucharistic service carried on as usual: the expression of the community’s faith in Christ, the recitation of the Nicene Creed, and the proclamation of Christ’s divinity in the Eucharistic prayers. According to Holdsworth, the purpose for allowing the recitation was not to incorporate a teaching or form of worship from another religion into their own, but to make the Muslims who were visiting for that specific celebration to feel welcome and comfortable in the church. “Frankly, we think it is a good thing that Muslims are coming to church and hearing us proclaim the Gospel of Christ.” he writes. “No-one pretends that Muslims and Christians believe the same things. We know that Muslims don’t believe in the divinity of Christ – that’s a known and accepted fact. It isn’t surprising. […] We don’t do syncretism, we do hospitality.” Besides extending hospitality, the recitation also seems to have created opportunities for open dialogue between the Muslim and Christian congregants. Holdsworth adds that the recitation of selections from al Qur’an during Christian worship services is rare, but not unheard of, noting that it had been done a few years earlier in the very same Cathedral in the presence of the Bishop during a Lessons and Carols service without nearly the same amount of publicity or backlash.

And there certainly has been backlash. This service, “regarded locally as a good event” according to Holdsworth, was subsequently reported to the general online audience in a very negative way, giving rise to many hateful responses, including serious threats against the safety of the clergy and people of Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Considering that these responses were described by Holdsworth as Islamophobic, it can only be assumed that the majority of them came from Christians angered by the Cathedral’s actions. Indeed, highly-critical opinions of this event are not difficult to find on YouTube and other sites, and Christians seem to be the ones complaining about it. It seems quite ironic that those most concerned about Muslim violence against Christians would resort to threats of violence themselves. This can hardly be considered an appropriate Christian response.

One of the chief complaints that I have seen is that the Surah that was recited that Epiphany evening is particularly anti-Christian…which is actually a fairly accurate claim. Surah 19 begins with the annunciation stories of Zechariah and Mary, similar to what is found in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, followed by some mention of Old Testament Prophets, and then a foretelling of Paradise for the righteous and the judgement and punishment in which all non-believers are condemned to a fiery eternity. One of the worst things the unbelievers proclaim about God is that he had begotten a son, because having children is something that creatures do and it is not fitting for God to have a son. Well, that’s exactly what Christians do proclaim, isn’t it? I don’t know Arabic, so I couldn’t tell for myself which verses marked the beginning and the end of the recitation, but so far I have found several blogs claim that it ended with verse 36, which is at the end of the Marian narrative. Verse 35 is the first of two that state that God should not have a son (the other being verse 92) and was therefore included.

And what does the Anglican Church have to say? Only a day or two after the Epiphany service made Internet headlines, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, a prominent figure within the Anglican Communion and expert on Christian-Muslim relations, publicly condemned the practice of reading al Qur’an during Christian worship services and even called for disciplinary action for those involved at St. Mary’s Cathedral. He plainly explains that the Surah in question promotes the nontrinitarian heresy of adoptionism, this is, the belief that Jesus was not a true son of God, but merely adopted. This heresy has been around since the Second Century. Nazir-Ali’s condemnation brings us full-circle, back the the mission of the Church and the original purpose of the Eucharistic service.

Finally, on January 13th, the Scottish Episcopal Church released a statement on the matter, first recognizing the importance of interfaith work and then pledging to explore ways to strengthen interfaith relations in the context of worship. Regarding the specific controversy at St. Mary’s, however, the Primus is leaving that up to Provost Holdsworth and the Cathedral’s faith community.


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