16 December 2010

Karaoke at the office holiday party

Here are two videos of me singing (in the first, I'm trying not to make my co-worker, Ramya, look bad) at the office holiday party. Another co-worker decided to use the occasion to test our video partner company's iPhone video upload app, and still another co-worker sent us the embed code, so why not. (Alas, Ramya's near-perfect rendition of "My Heart Will Go On" was not captured.) :-(

Anyway, here we are, singing:

A Whole New World

La Bamba

15 December 2010

Geek corner: easily hyperlink text in any Windows program

Disclaimer: this is geeky, but you might find it useful.

Further disclaimer: this is a Windows-only solution. If you use a Mac, Linux box, or CR-48, find your own geek to solve this problem for you.

I don't know about you, but I'm constantly writing documents (emails, blog posts, word docs, etc.) using various rich text editors, and wanting to hyperlink text in those documents. Generally speaking, I have found this frequent use case to be too much of a pain in the ass. The steps are:

- Copy the URL you're linking to onto the clipboard (perhaps using Ctrl-C).
- Highlight the text you want to hyperlink.
- Find the "make this a hyperlink" button or feature in the program you happen to be using. Often this is a button that looks like a little chain, hiding in some toolbar somewhere. Perhaps there's a hotkey for it. Perhaps not.
- Wait for the "make this a hyperlink" dialog box to pop up. Make sure your focus is in the "URL" textbox in that dialog.
- Paste the URL into the textbox (perhaps using Ctrl-V).
- Press the "OK" button or hit Enter or whatever.
- Huzzah!

These are the steps I want:

- Copy the URL you're linking to onto the clipboard (perhaps using Ctrl-C).
- Highlight the text you want to hyperlink.
- Hit some hotkey to "paste" the URL onto the text in such a way as to make it a hyperlink.
- Huzzah!

(In fact, I sheepishly admit that I am always accidentally blowing away the text I wanted to turn into a link, and replacing it with the URL I wanted to link to, by forgetting that it doesn't work this way and hitting Ctrl-V. This means that I'm a dunderhead. Probably you're not.)

So, I did what every good programmer does when they want to solve a problem that can obviously be solved with code: I Googled to find out if anyone has already made a solution I can steal.

That failed. I did find an AutoHotkey script which does this trick when you're working in a raw HTML code editor, but I wanted something that will work in rich text editors (such as Gmail and Microsoft Office programs) as well as apps that actually have a "raw HTML" mode (such as Blogger and WordPress).

So I did what any good programmer does when Googling fails: break down and write some damn code. But not, as it turned out, very much code at all.

As it happened, I only needed a very tiny bit of glue to solve this problem, because others had gotten it nearly there. My final solution features a modified version of the AutoHotKey mentioned above (by Lowell Heddings) as well as a C# class to simplify interactions with the Windows clipboard (by Mike Stall). Beyond modding Lowell's script, all I actually had to write were two lines of C# code. FTW.

So anyway, now I can copy a URL to my clipboard, highlight a chunk of text in any HTML-aware Windows app, hit Ctrl-Alt-V, and turn that text into a hyperlink. Want the same capability? Here's what you do:

0) You'll need the .NET Framework 2.0 (or better) - you've probably got it already.
1) Download and install AutoHotKey.
2) Download LinkPaster.zip and unzip it to somewhere convenient, such as c:\Program Files.
3) In your LinkPaster folder (such as c:\Program Files\LinkPaster), double-click the InsertHyperlink.ahk file to install and run that AutoHotkey script.
4) Huzzah! You should be off to the races. Let me know if it doesn't work.

(BTW, this hack made me very happy while I was writing this post.)


image by small world (rights)

21 July 2010


I found out this morning that a friend of mine died last week, apparently of natural causes. He was my age. We had fallen out of touch in recent years, despite that we lived near each other, because we had become frustrated with one another, and I was all too willing to comply with his stated desire to be left alone. In the years since then, I've thought about reaching out to him, but I never did. He could have done the same, of course, but might very well have refrained from doing so for no other reason than that he thought I was still mad at him. (I wasn't.) For my part, the reason I didn't reach out was simply that I sometimes found him frustrating, and therefore I didn't really want to.

"There will always be time for reconciliation later" is one of those lies that we tell ourselves, which I think we know very well are lies, even as we are comforted by them. I wish I had not been so hard-hearted and lazy, but there's fuckall I can do about it now.

12 July 2010

On relationship and belief

There's currently quite a bit of discussion around my church, the Common Table, regarding issues of belief and unbelief. These are exactly the sorts of things that churches ought to be discussing (as opposed to not discussing them in a quietly unhappy manner), so this is a healthy thing, I suppose.

"Beliefs" have never been something that Common Table (CT) has particularly emphasized. There's a paragraph on the topic in our Heart Document, which is just about the only written constitutional document for our community. Here's what it says:

Beliefs: We believe our doctrine is adequately encompassed in the Nicene Creed. This is the guiding compass we will follow as a church, while still providing the freedom for members of the church to question and explore matters of faith openly.

The reason for adopting the Nicene Creed, as I understand it, was due to the fact that the majority of CT's members, at the time the Heart Document was formed, came from a post-evangelical background. That is, they came from a world in which churches would commonly post a very detailed doctrinal statement on their web site - a statement including doctrines regarding salvation, predestination, heaven and hell, the Atonement, the Bible, etc. Many in CT at the time felt that these sorts of statements served to build walls between a given church and other churches where folks might disagree on some of those doctrinal points. Instead, CT adopted a statement of belief which (despite its checkered formation history) has been affirmed by the vast majority of the worldwide Church (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant) for the vast majority of the Church's history. The idea was to unite us with the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church - not to cut us off from it.

Some things to note about the Nicene Creed: We have a Father God who is a mighty Creator, but mostly left to mystery. We have Jesus the Son who undergoes an Incarnation, suffering and death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Second Coming - but the hows and whys of those are mostly left unspecified. (Though if you happen to be schooled in ancient Greek philosophical categories, it does tell you precisely the manner in which He was begotten. FWIW.) And we have a Holy Spirit, a Church, a sacrament of forgiveness, and a hope of resurrection and a new world - all of which are described in the briefest terms. There's nothing there about the nature of the Bible, or what exactly happened in the Atonement, or who gets salvation and why, or any of a number of other doctrinal points upon which folks might have strong (and divergent) opinions.

This brief and somewhat enigmatic statement of belief has been a part of our community culture for years, but it's never been the most prominent thing. We mention it in our Heart Document, post it on our web site, and use it in worship - some times more frequently, some times less. In our Heart Document, we call it "adequate". Some folks have felt it was too much, some too little - so "adequate" is perhaps about right.

Also notable is the second sentence in the "Beliefs" paragraph: "This is the guiding compass we will follow as a church, while still providing the freedom for members of the church to question and explore matters of faith openly." The Creed sets some direction for the community as a whole, but in no way seeks to put boundaries around the community - or the intellectual and spiritual journey of individual members.

Finally, the paragraph on "Beliefs" has been very much held in tension with the next paragraph in our Heart Document:

Mystery: God is big and we will never be able to fully understand Him. We are not afraid of unanswerable questions. We also believe that God can be experienced through the sacraments and that He works to reveal himself through the arts.

* * *

So why am I inviting you to care about this? Because lately, some folks have (if I'm hearing them well) been wanting a more central place for a belief statement in our community, and/or a belief statement that goes well beyond the Nicene Creed in the ground it covers.

A good friend of mine recently asked an excellent question: why would anyone want to join an organization if they don't subscribe to all of the beliefs that the organization is centered on?

It's an excellent question, and there could be a variety of answers to it, but I want to suggest that one possible answer is: some organizations aren't centered on a set of beliefs.

I would further suggest that, as I personally understand it, Common Table is one such organization.

I don't mean to suggest that belief isn't one vital aspect of our life as a community. I just don't think it's our center.

As an example, my friend mentioned Greenpeace. Why would someone join Greenpeace if they didn't believe in protecting the environment?

But I think Greenpeace is actually an example of an organization that's not centered around belief, but action. The point of Greenpeace is to protect the environment - that's why people join. It's not because they share certain beliefs. Sure, maybe there's one big belief that spawns all the action: "The earth is worth saving." But there are lots of smaller beliefs that many Greenpeace activists might believe are central to their work, such as, "Veganism is a necessary part of caring for the environment." Many Greenpeace activists believe this. Many do not. They set those differences aside because in the end it's all about the action.

In Common Table, we say the Nicene Creed is our guiding compass - but a compass is not a center. A compass provides direction. It's a tool. It's not the core.

What, then, is our center? To me, Common Table is centered on relationships. Here's our Heart Document again:

Community: The Common Table exists only in the relationships among its members. We desire to foster a community where people are both accepted completely and encouraged to become more like Christ. We recognize there is tension between those two concepts of acceptance and accountability.

This obviously speaks to the relationships among the community members, which are (I think) core to who we are. But it also speaks to the relationship which I would like to think is at the real center of our shared life: a discipleship relationship with Jesus. To me, we are a Christian church because we, as a community, seek to follow and be formed by Jesus - not because we (collectively or individually) subscribe to any particular set of beliefs. As with Greenpeace, there may be one or two big beliefs that spawn all these relationships - "Jesus is worth following" and "these people are pretty cool", perhaps. We may differ on all kinds of beliefs, but we set those differences aside, because it's all about the relationships - including, centrally, our community's commitment to a disciple relationship with Jesus.

(Admittedly, an authentic attempt at relationship with Jesus - as with anyone - both shapes and is shaped by certain beliefs. To engage authentically with the Jesus described in the Bible and yet believe he would support antisemitism requires amazing ignorance, yet lots of people do it. Similarly, an atheist engaged with a community that seeks to follow Jesus should be challenged, regularly, by the obvious fact of Jesus' theism. And no, I'm not equating atheism with antisemitism - just saying that a relationship requires openness to the other person: you notice things about them. It would be hard not to notice that Jesus was a theistic Jew.)

I recognize that for many folks, a church is, by definition and without exception, centered around beliefs - otherwise it's not a church. I acknowledge, honor, and respect that point of view, and still submit my personal opinion (nothing more than that) that Common Table Church is centered not around beliefs, but around relationships.

* * *

When I read Pete Rollins' recent post, "Oh death, where is thy sting?", it really knocked me on my ass, because it so completely nails exactly where I've been lately (as I've struggled with some depression, anxiety, and existential crisis). Pete says:

[Paul] Tillich writes of three anxieties (that are simply different ways in which nonbeing makes its absence felt). There is the anxiety of fate which, at its most extreme, is encountered in a despair that we face death. Then there is the anxiety of emptiness (where we experience our various projects as unfulfilling) that can degenerate into the despair of total meaninglessness. And finally there is the anxiety of guilt (where we feel that we fall short of our own being). An anxiety that, at its most all encompassing, is felt in the despair of condemnation.

Yep, that's me lately. Pete continues:

Tillich questions the idea that the way of Christ provides religious answers to our existential questions. Rather he attempts to show that Christ invites us to participate in a way of being that enables us to live beneath the shadow of these questions. Joyously embracing life while fully acknowledging their presence. Living in such a way that they are deprived of their weight and sting. In doing this he points to the possibility of a God arising from the ashes of the death of the religious God. A God that can be described as the source of our ability to live fully in the midst of our existential doubts.

This God, described by Tillich and Rollins as ultimately indescribable by religious answers - by statements of doctrine and belief - is the God I personally need, desperately, right now. This is the God of the "Mystery" paragraph in our Heart Document, and to a large extent also the God of the "Beliefs" paragraph, since the Creed leaves so much room for mystery and so many details - salvation, atonement, judgement, eschatology, etc. - unspecified. This indescribable God, beyond our understanding, is so much bigger than these anxieties of fate, emptiness, and guilt - and also bigger than our creeds and doctrines. This is the God I long for, and the God toward whom I see Christ pointing me.

* * *

So I, personally, need this kind of faith (centered on mystery, not certainty) and this kind of church (centered on relationships, not beliefs) for at least three reasons. In order of decreasing selfishness:

1) I need the kind of faith/church that welcomes heretics for those times when I am a heretic. I need a faith/church that welcomes agnostics for those times when I am an agnostic. I need a faith/church that welcomes atheists for those times when I am an atheist. I need a faith and a church that welcomes me.

2) Some of my dearest friends identify (for the moment, anyway) as heretics, agnostics, or atheists. I need a faith/church that welcomes them.

3) I believe (ha! - I said belief is an important aspect) that God is love, and God loves everyone. I need a faith/church that welcomes everyone.

In my experience, centering on beliefs builds divisions with those who (even temporarily) do not share those beliefs. Centering on relationships does the opposite - it brings people together despite their differences. This has been my experience of Common Table Church in the five years I've been connected with it.

And as long as the relationship that's at the core of our community is our relationship with Jesus - following after him, being formed by him - and as long as we in our relationships with each other are committed to maintaining that tension between acceptance and accountability - in short, as long as we are faithful to Christ and to one another - belief, to the extent that it is helpful, will follow. But in my opinion we must not put it first.

image by alicepopkorn (rights)

21 April 2010

Grateful for my Dad

My Dad passed away two years ago today.

I miss him terribly. At the same time, right now, I'm feeling very strongly how much he's really, truly not gone. It's cliche. It's not a thing that would have comforted me when grief was newer. But right now, it feels true: there's a very real sense in which Dad lives on in me, in Sean, in Mom, and in all of us whom he loved so well. Like I said in my eulogy for him, so much of what's good and lovable in me comes from Tom Croghan.

I'm grateful for you today, Dad. Thank you.

All my love,

07 April 2010

TransFORM Network East Coast Gathering

Following the requisite apology for not blogging much lately (sorry - I'm sure your RSS reader has felt empty and unloved) ;-) I would like to make a preliminary "teaser" plug for this really awesomely cool conference coming up (April 30th through May 2nd), right in my own back yard (Wesley Theological Seminary in DC). It's:

From the web site:

We are gathering missional practitioners on the East Coast to learn from each other and to mobilize others for forming new missional communities.

Whether you’re a pastor, prospective "church planter," or simply interested in finding out more about transformational missional communities of practice, this gathering is designed to inspire and equip you to go and do likewise!

Click through and check it out. An awful lot of my good friends, both local and remote, are going to be there, and many of us will be speaking or leading workshops. My friend Deanna and I will be doing a workshop entitled, "The Practices Must Support Each Other: Engineering Communities That Work", which will pick up some themes from this blog post, among other sources.

It's free! And it will gather a ridonkulous collection of cool people in one place. So y'all come!

02 January 2010

New Year's Eve partay!

Hey kids! Check out the awesome video Tim made of our Sesame-Street-themed New Year's party! That's my celestial wife Tina and our otherworldly friend Amy rawkin' out in the Yip Yip Martian costumes. :-)

NYE Party '09-'10 from Tim Snyder on Vimeo.

More pics are here.