Brandon's Notepad

February 17, 2017

The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX)

ShortURL http://wp.me/pb7U7-28b


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

ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-286



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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Short URL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-26E
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

ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-21o


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.


October 13, 2016

Obama Controversies

Filed under: List — Brandon @ 9:18 pm
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Short URL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-1Ww


Love him or hate him, it cannot be denied that Barack Obama is one of the most controversial Presidents the United States has ever had. I started this list some time ago and wanted to write a more thorough treatment of each, but I have far too many other things to do for that. Some are true, most are reportedly bogus, and all can be found easily on the Internet.


Controversies

  • First African-American President
  • Citizenship / birth certificate / birther theory
  • Campaign rally fainting incidents
  • 57 States (c.f. Organisation of Islamic Cooperation)
  • Bible irrelevancy (c.f. Call to Renewal speech, Dobson)
  • Sworn in with no Bible / with hand on Quran
  • Jeremiah Wright (c.f. Liberation Theology, Black Lib Theology, James Cone)
  • American flag lapel pin
  • Socialism / Communism
  • Hand over heart during National Anthem / Pledge of Allegiance
  • Michelle’s “All this for a **** flag” comment
  • Negotiating with terrorists
  • USA “no longer a Christian nation”
  • National Day of Prayer cancellation (so not to offend people)
  • Muslim Day of Prayer upheld (so as not to offend Muslims)
  • Bows to Saudi King
  • Michelle hugs the Queen of England
  • Is a demon, smells of sulfur (c.f. Alex Jones)

Sites


August 9, 2016

The Energy Bus

ShortURL: http://wp.me/pb7U7-1Ue


The Energy Bus This is a short review of The Energy Bus, written by Jon Gordon.

The Energy Bus is a fictional story about a man named George whose life seems to be coming apart at the seams. His performance is being scrutinized at work, his wife is disenchanted with him as a husband, and to top it off, he leaves for work one morning only to find that his car has a flat tire. With no spare and no ride, George is forced to take the bus. This is perhaps the best thing to ever happen to him, for on the bus he meets Joy, the bus driver, and her band of merry passengers who present to George a new perspective on life. George undergoes a miraculous transformation and gets his life back on track.

Though a bit longer than the traditional fable, this story was written to teach a series of lessons about personal happiness, effectiveness, and success. Through the character of George, the reader is reminded that he is the driver of his own bus and is in full control of powering and steering the vehicle, as well as being responsible for the passengers he brings on board. The rules of the bus, established by Joy, provide the basis for having a fun and meaningful ride. The bus, of course, is a metaphor for one’s life. The Ten Rules for the Ride of Your Life can easily be found online, and are even provided in printable poster format by the publisher.

I was introduced to this book as part of a corporate seminar led by ethics expert and motivational speaker, Dr. Paul Voss. The seminar focused on lessons from this and about four other books. From the title, I was concerned that the book was steeped in New Age teachings on how to channel psychic energy in the workplace. Dr. Voss reassured us that the book was not about that at all, just about how our attitudes heavily influence our performance within our work community, so I went along with it. While Voss’ interpretation was certainly valid and my fear was more amplified than what the text warranted, the book did make at least one explicit mention of the Law of Attraction, a pinnacle of New Age ideas prevalent in works such as A Course in Miracles. The author didn’t harp on this much at all, so if you discount the New Age concept of energy and want to read in the context of simply having a positive attitude (as Dr. Voss advocated), the story still works.

The book definitely made an impression on my colleagues, some more than others. Rule #6, “No Energy Vampires Allowed” has been particularly popular around the office. In addition to hiring Dr. Voss to discuss the text to us, the company also purchased some promotional materials for the employees, including some postcard-size versions of the poster linked above, and some smaller cards (approx. 2″x3″) that we were invited to hand out to others or to post in our cubicles as reminders of the lessons contained in the book. In all, as a source of workplace motivation, the seminar and the book were quite successful.


July 28, 2016

Catholic Mass Bible Readings Coverage

ShortURL: wp.me/pb7U7-1Q3


Do Catholics read the Bible? You bet they do! But some other Christians want you to think otherwise. Here’s a good lesson on how to lie with infographics.


The Accusation

Catholics are often accused of claiming to be Christian and yet not reading the Bible. In one respect this is true, because the average Catholic is less likely to sit down and read the Bible from cover to cover in the same way an Evangelical Christian might. Like anything else, Catholic and Evangelical populations could be surveyed and the results analyzed statistically, and in doing so you will likely find plenty of people who do not fit the stereotype: Catholics that read their Bibles all the time and Evangelicals that don’t.

In Reality

What Evangelicals don’t realize is that Catholics hear much more of the Bible than they read. There are four readings (OT, Psalm, NT, Gospel) assigned for each holy day of obligation (i.e. all Sundays and certain feast days). There are also three “cycles” arranged such that the Gospel of Matthew is covered in Cycle A, Mark in Cycle B, and Luke in Cycle C. The Gospel of John is spread across certain days throughout the year, but especially in the seasons of Lent and Easter.

The Infographic

A year or so ago, someone I follow on Twitter posted an infographic, which can be found here on imgur, that plots the readings throughout the liturgical the year. The imgur post includes a bit of explanatory information about how to read the graph, followed by the following note to the reader: “Notice all of the blank space. Only 14.2% of the entire bible is read during mass over the course of three years.” Yikes! Only 14.2%? That’s not a lot!

Something’s Not Quite Right

Yes, the graph shows a lot of blank space; however, notice that time is depicted on the X-axis. This means that the plotted area does not actually represent the pure volume of content. How should this graph be read then?

Assumptions

I decided to conduct a little test to see how accurate the 14.2% claim actually is. To do this, the following assumptions were made:

  1. The graph is intended to be an accurate representation of the data.
    Which is the claim being made, right?
  2. Each of the black hash marks represent one holy day.
    There are 52 Sundays and about 5 non-Sunday Holy Days of Obligation, making 57 total. The year is depicted as a 286-pixel block, which means each mark should be 5.02 pixels wide on average. Indeed, spot-checking reveals that most are either 6 or 7 pixels wide, with a few as short as 4 pixels.
  3. Each of the black hash marks represent a unique section of Scripture.
    It is unclear exactly how the volume of content is presented here. Do the marks represent whole chapters? Individual stories? Segments of verses? But it doesn’t really matter, because the next assumption is that…
  4. The height of the plotted area represents 100% coverage of Bible content.
    The plotted area is 741 pixels in height. According to multiple sources on the Web, the Protestant Bible contains 1,189 chapters, which is greater than 741, so each mark can’t represent a chapter exactly. The Catholic Bible contains a few additional books, but not enough to allow for each pixel to represent two chapters.

Method

The test required some simple graphical manipulation of the picture using a paint program (in the case I used GIMP). There were three basic steps:

  1. Remove time from the graph.
    This was done by extending each of the black hash marks to fully cover the year in which it was found. I did this for all marks in all three years, and then cut most of each year out, leaving only a thin ribbon to represent it’s coverage.
  2. Find the cumulative coverage.
    Using the layers feature, I moved a copy of each year’s content volume to form a column of combined (or cumulative) coverage.
  3. Compress the volume to determine percentage.
    This was tedious, but I removed all blank space between the bands of black on a copy of the cumulative column, resulting in a 315-pixel bar, and placed it on top of a grey, 741-pixel tall background.

The Result

My cumulative coverage columns are shown to the right of the original graph below. The columns for Cycles A, B, and C are labeled accordingly, the combined coverage column is labeled with a Sigma, and the percentage coverage column with a percent sign. The result is that a whopping 42.5% of the Bible is read during Mass on Sundays and Holy Days alone.

Lectionary_Coverage

Notice that there is essentially full coverage of the Gospels over three years, nearly full coverage of the rest of the New Testament, a heavy concentration on certain Old Testament books (e.g. Genesis, Exodus, major prophets like Isaiah), and lighter coverage on books that even Protestants don’t pay much attention to (e.g. Numbers, Kings, Chronicles, minor prophets, etc.).

Conclusion

The poster’s claim that only 14.2% of the Bible is read during days of obligation is incorrect. This is obviously not a perfect test, because there are a lot of assumptions and unknowns about how the original author is depicting the data; however, the margin between 14.2% and 42.5% is far too wide to be simple error.

Is the imgur poster trying to mislead you, assuming you will simply take the graphic at face value? Maybe. I have considered the possibility that the 14.2% claim was based on the percentage of the plotted area covered by black pixels, in which case the poster actually misinterpreted the graph. It is not clear whether or not the person who posted the graphic on imgur and the author of the graphic are the same person.

Wait, There’s More…

This infographic covered readings for holy days on which Catholics are required (yes, not expected, but required by Church law) to attend so that they may hear them, live them, and share them with others. What is not covered are the readings for the rest of the week! Most Catholics don’t attend daily Mass, but those that do will hear even more of the Bible! You can visit the Liturgy page on the USCCB website for more details on that.


July 27, 2016

Royalty Free Music

Filed under: music — Brandon @ 3:25 pm
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ShortURL: TBD
Home > My Lists > Music & Literature > Royalty Free Music


I needed a royalty-free tune for a project at work and found some good sites. Here is the list. I will add to it later if I find more.


Kevin MacLeod / Incompetech (Favorite; I used a score from here for my project; Creative Commons)

Brett Von Donsel
Chipmusic
Free-Loops.com
Free Music Archive
Machinimasound


July 26, 2016

July 26, 2016: Boettner, White Noise, Stereotypes, Gradient Mesh

ShortURL: TBD

Boettner’s Roman Catholicism Online
In 1962, Loraine Boettner published the protestant’s definitive guide to the Catholic Church, explaining all of the ways in which Mother Church deceives her members into believing that they are part of a legitimate Christian sect, when instead she is doing the work of Satan, enticing these poor sheep into the snares of false religion. The only problem is, it’s all bunk. Boettner’s classic receives a healthy treatment in Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism, which is well worth the read. The text may sound convincing and well-written, but Boettner’s footnotes and citations often lead to misquoted, misunderstood, non-authoritative, and even non-existent sources that “condemn” the Church and her teachings. In all, this text definitely falls into the category of anti-Catholic hate literature, and now, you too can peruse it’s pages free of charge…well, some of them anyway. I happened across an online copy of Roman Catholicism, which is incomplete with only three chapters represented and none of the footnotes I recall from the printed book.

White Noise
Need help falling asleep or want to drown out the sound of your neighbor’s afternoon snack in the ol’ cubicle farm? Try using white noise. The folks at the MC2 Method offer nearly fifty types of white noise in durations of 10 minutes, 60 minutes, and 8-12 hours free for download (for personal use only).

Maps Mocking Stereotypes
Even though we shouldn’t judge people unfairly, we are all guilty of using stereotypes at one time or another. Then again, I’d heard it said time and again that it wouldn’t be a stereotype if it weren’t true. Here is a set of 31 maps that present stereotypes in map form. [Warning: some of these are NSFW…or children…or any self-respecting member of the human race…oh, you clicked it already, didn’t you? Ok, enjoy.] Pay attention to the perspective being portrayed in each, and please don’t take these too seriously.

Gradient Mesh
I stumbled upon a few examples of vector art created in Adobe Illustrator using the Gradient Mesh tool. I don’t know how it works and I didn’t include any links here due to the shear volume of Google hits, but do a quick image search and see how this tool is being used to create some very realistic art.

April 15, 2016

Why Christians Hate Religion

Filed under: Christianity,Religion — Brandon @ 4:58 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

ShortURL: http://goo.gl/2LxbKj


The word religion has gotten a bad reputation lately, not with atheists, but with Christians! I decided it was time to find out why. To quote the famous words of Inigo Montoya, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”


Haters Gonna Hate

Search for the hashtags #ihatereligion, #religionstinks, and #godhatesreligion on Twitter, Facebook, and even Instragram, and you will find posts (to use the term generically) from a variety of people stating why they hate religion. The reasons are often specific and the language quite emphatic. At a high level, the vast majority of the posters can be classified as belonging to one of two broad groups of people.

Atheists. As one might easily guess, Atheists comprise the first group. Some just want to rant, often targeting Christianity or Islam explicitly. The bases for their opinions are not new: religion is a collection of fairy tales, religion contradicts science, religion is only good for starting wars, etc. Others have simply lost their faith and deny God, usually because they are suffering from a great loss. Ever hear someone ask how a loving god could possibly allow something so awful (e.g. cancer, terrorism, etc.) to exist? But today I’m not interested in exploring why Athiests hate religion. It’s expected. It’s what they do. It’s in the name.

Christians. It’s the second group of posters that seems counterintuitive: Christians! After all, wouldn’t most people classify Christianity as a religion? This notion isn’t exactly new. You may remember a viral video released by Christian evangelist Jefferson Bethke in 2012 titled Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus. With almost 31 million views to date, it is still available on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. I’d really like to decompose the content of that video, but that’s a post for another day. Bethke’s message is that religion always interferes with one’s ability to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The aforementioned posts sing pretty much the same tune. By the way, there are a good number of evangelical pastors that exude this message on social media channels, constantly re-enforcing the hate rhetoric amongst their followers.

On a side note, I really expected to see more posts from the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd, not so much the New Age followers, but the disenchanted Christians who for one reason or another have given up on church, but can’t bring themselves to totally give up on God. Common reasons for holding this position include hypocrisy within the church organization to which they belong and sheer boredom with the routine they’ve been forced to keep since childhood with no perceived benefit. Sometimes they claim to hate “organized” religion. Even if they really do hate religion, they don’t seem to be very vocal about it. You are more likely to hear them express their non-religiosity when you extend an invitation to attend a worship service.

What Is Religion Anyway?

It seems appropriate that if you are going to hate something so badly that you have to tell the world about it, then you should at least understand what it is first. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the case with our Christian hater friends. Let’s take a moment to examine the meaning of religion and get a feel for what it really means to be religious.

Etymology. When it comes to defining words, I always like to start by studying their etymological origins. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, religion is derived from French and Latin, and is defined by words and phrases like devotion, respect for the sacred, reverence, conscientiousness, moral obligation, faith, and worship. Given these definitions, it is hard to understand why any Christian would object to religion, since these words describe Christians of just about any stripe. Faith is obviously an important Christian concept, and any Christian excited about their faith will likely self-identify as being devoted to Christ. Christians worship in a variety of ways, some traditional, some contemporary (some with rock concerts). And based on the parables of Jesus, Christians generally agree that they are under a moral obligation to love their neighbors as themselves, even if they don’t believe it is required for salvation. Next, let’s examine how the word has been used by various writers throughout time.

Cicero (45 B.C.). In writing on the nature of the [Roman] gods, Cicero wrote, “Piety, as with other virtues, cannot exist as a pretense (i.e. an outward display only). Without piety, sanctity and religion must be eliminated, leading to a life of turmoil and great confusion.” [De Natura Deorum, Book I, Chapter 2] In this case, Cicero uses the word religionem, which can be translated as: conscientiousness, sense of right, moral obligation, duty. This agrees with the French usage explained above. It is noteworthy that Cicero distinguishes between those who offer an abundance of prayers and sacrifices for something (in the case of this text, for the long lives of their children) as a superstitious people and those who carefully read (and reread, i.e. study) about those things which the gods require in worship as being religious. The former are admonished and the latter praised. [De Natura Deorum, Book II, Chapter 28] Here, Cicero uses the word religiosi, meaning one who is devout, which again agrees with the etymology described above. [Please note, I am referencing Cicero only because his works are often cited to show how the English word ‘religion’ was derived from Latin. The fact that he writes in the context of a pagan religion is irrelevant to the usage and meaning of the word itself.]

Lactantius. Lactantius was an early Christian writer and advisor to Emperor Constantine. His work The Divine Institutes outlines the false worship of gods and the false wisdom of the philosophers, and then expounds upon true wisdom and religion, justice, worship, and how to lead a happy life. Like Cicero, Lactantius distinguishes between religion as the cultivation of truth and superstition as the cultivation of that which is false. He goes on to say that how one worships (e.g. which prayers are used) is not important in comparison to what one worships (i.e. the pagan gods vs. the one true God). In disagreement with the notion that being religious must come from learning, however, Lactantius claims that religion is derived from the bond of piety. God is, after all, our master and father, and deserves our full obedience. [Divinarum Institutionum, Book IV, Chapter 28]

Augustine (426 A.D.). Saint Augustine also employed religio to mean duty to God. In the tenth book of The City of God, Augustine explores the words that one might use to describe man’s duty to serve God alone. [De Civitate Dei, Book X, Chapter 1] Two chapters later, when commenting on Matthew 22:37-40, he says this about the love of neighbor: Hic est Dei cultus, haec vera religio, haec recta pietas, haec tantum Deo debita servitus (translated: Here is worship of God, here true religion, here right piety, here the service due only to God). Wait, did he just say ‘true religion’ and ‘God alone’? Evangelical Fundamentalists are often taken aback when they hear such words attributed to a Catholic patriarch; after all, shouldn’t Augustine be writing about worshiping statues of Mary and other such abominations? Maybe he too was spiritual but not religious, right? Wrong. In fact, he wrote a work titled On True Religion shortly before becoming a Catholic priest (390 A.D.). Primarily an appeal for the Christian faith to the Manicheans, it mentions much about religious rites and Christian discipline, and even the exclusion of members of other religious sects from the Catholic communion on the grounds that they differ in doctrine, despite similarities in their rituals. [De Vera Religiones, paragraph v,9]. Another point made by Augustine [paragraph x,19] with which many Christians would agree is this: “Don’t serve the creature instead of the Creator or have empty thoughts. That is perfect religion (perfecta religio est)“. Finally, he exhorts “Let religion bind us to the one almighty God” (religet nos religio uni omnipotenti Deo). In this last quote, Augustine clearly agrees with Lactantius that religion is more than mere duty, but a binding relationship with the Lord.

Thomas Aquinas (~1260 A.D.). In addressing the question as to whether or not religion directs man to God alone, Saint Thomas cites both Cicero and Augustine, explaining their various opinions, but reasons further that regardless of how the word evolved, it clearly denotes a relationship with God. Not only should be bind ourselves to God, and continually seek him, but we should always strive to recover the relationship with him that we lose whenever we sin. [Summa Theologica II-II, Q 81 A 1]

Modern Usage. Take a sample of definitions from modern dictionaries and you will find that the first definition will almost always refer to a belief (and worship) in a supernatural power (in a god or set of gods). This definition is usually followed, if not immediately, by a reference to rituals, ceremonies, observances, practices, teachings and rules. According to the same Online Etymology Dictionary article cited above, the English definition of a “particular system of faith” actually dates back to as early as 1300 A.D., not long after Aquinas wrote the Summa.

Ecclesiastical Usage. When the Church refers to someone being religious, it typically means that the person is a member of a religious order, living apart from society and according to a particular devotion. This refers, of course, to monks, nuns, and brothers and sisters in religious communities. These people bind themselves to God voluntarily in daily prayer and recitation of Scripture, and they make God the focus in every aspect of their everyday lives. The local parish priest is typically not a religious in accordance with this definition, though some parishes are run by, say, Dominican priests or Third Order Franciscans, to give two examples. Again, the notions of duty and binding, and even the concept of drawing oneself closer to God through re-reading are all present.

Pope Leo XIII (1885 A.D.) Returning to the modern meaning of religion as a particular set of beliefs, Pope Leo XIII had the following to say while examining the relationship between religion and the state:

To hold, therefore, that there is no difference in matters of religion between forms that are unlike each other, and even contrary to each other, most clearly leads in the end to the rejection of all religion in both theory and practice. And this is the same thing as atheism, however it may differ from it in name. [Immortale Dei, 31]

Clearly, this is a refutation of religious pluralsim, but it contains within it a basic principle born out of our own human nature: religious practice keeps man close to God. To keep from wandering into disbelief, man must find some way to bind himself with the Lord, and this binding, as we have seen in the previous excerpts, is itself religion.

Still Hating?

From what we’ve read above, it doesn’t sound like religion is a bad thing at all. In fact, it sounds like an essential part of maintaining a right relationship with God. So where does the negative connotation come from?

Without an exhaustive study of religious literature, it would be hard to pinpoint exactly when this mentality become popular, but traces of it can clearly be seen in American Christianity and the revival movement starting in the mid- to late-1800s. In order to demonize Catholicism, Christian writers and preachers (who were either ignorant of or chose to ignore everything we’ve covered thus far) have since gone to great lengths to paint the Church as a corrupt organization with satanic intentions and superstitious practices designed to achieve nothing but to keep its members as far from God as possible. This certainly shines through in works like Ellen G. White’s The Great Controversy (1888) and Loraine Boettner’s Roman Catholicism (1962). One might even successfully argue that these sentiments can be traced directly to Martin Luther. One quote attributed to Luther seems to use the word religious in the pejorative: “The Pope is a mere tormentor of conscience. The assembly of his greased and religious crew in praying was altogether like the croaking of frogs, which edified nothing at all.” If the hate for religion was seeded in Protestantism, it has been most effectively fertilized in Christian Fundamentalism.

Extreme Thinking

I will close with this thought. If religion is binding oneself voluntarily to God, then it is perfected in Heaven where his will is done perfectly. Only in Hell is one truly free from religion, as no creature therein has ever chosen to bind themselves to him, for if they had, then they would not be there presently. In the end analysis, all hate originates from one source.


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