Book Review: Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky few months back my brother introduced me to a video of a guy named Clay Shirky talking about wikipedia and something called “cognitive surplus“. It was brilliant. Shirky basically pointed out that in USA we spend more time sitting around watching commercials on the weekend then it would take to create the entire Wikipedia, about 100 million hours of thought.

From there I found out Shirky had just come out with a book entitled, Here Comes Everybody, The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Having just started a wikipedia-like project, and lamenting the inefficiencies of organizations, I grabbed a copy of the book as quickly as I could. This book is simply brilliant.

If you have any interest in social networking, the power of the internet, or simply using technology creatively for your cause, event or organization, I recommend this book. It’s more philosphical then practical, but it contains many practical examples and you (at least I) can’t help but have a hundred ideas you want to go and implement immediately after each chapter.

What’s great about this is that Shirky shares stories about things that have relevance beyond online. It’s not just about a facebook group that has 100,000 members, which has no impact on the world outside of that social network. Instead he talks about flash-mobs and twitter being used as political tools, Flickr and Meetup creating social groups that never would have found each other otherwise.

One brief idea I’ll summarize here is the idea of lowered transaction cost. It used to be that the cost (time, money, resources) for any collective effort was very high, thus often only taken on by large organizations or groups. But with the internet the transaction cost of any particular action is nearly zero. That’s part of the reason you have millions of blogs, social networks, and plenty of failures. But it’s also how brilliant ideas by random individuals are able to take off in ways they never could before (think facebook or google even).

You should find a copy of this book and get your read on.

Six Sentences: Desert Road

The Mustang’s engined rumbled as it sat parked in the gravel on the side of the dusty road. The empty road stretched for miles in either direction, the sweltering heat distorting the view ahead through the windshield. The top down, Sam sat up on the door of the car and lit a cigarette, glancing down the road for a better look. It was definitely a person, or was a person, lying there, he could make out the clothes now, the kind of person he shouldn’t be messing with. Sam had never prided himself on his compassion, mostly because he’d never had much, there had been far too many times he’d done what he knew was wrong. Then the pile of clothes ahead moved, just a few inches, enough to see the pool of blood oozing beneath him, enough to know he was alive, and enough for same to know that this time, just this time, he’d do the right thing.

My other six sentence stories:

[photo credit]

Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty

In an effort to post something meaningful for Blog Action Day I’ve posted an old post I wrote that I think could have one of the most relevant impacts on global poverty possible.

This was a discussion that started with some friends of mine at Wheaton College our senior year. If your interested in some of the history of the discussion here are some links: My first post on it, Nate’s follow up month’s later (including a lot of discussion in the comments), Another Nate post and discussion, finally here is a related post by me from March.
You can skip those and I’m going to write my thoughts on it below, hopefully touching on everything of importance from the previous discussion.

2006 HHS Poverty Guidelines

Persons in
Family or Household
48 Contiguous
States and D.C.
Alaska Hawaii
1 $ 9,800 $12,250 $11,270
2 13,200 16,500 15,180
3 16,600 20,750 19,090
4 20,000 25,000 23,000
5 23,400 29,250 26,910
6 26,800 33,500 30,820
7 30,200 37,750 34,730
8 33,600 42,000 38,640
For each additional
person, add
3,400 4,250 3,910

SOURCE: Federal Register, Vol. 71, No. 15, January 24,
2006, pp. 3848-3849

An important clarification needs to be made about what I’m about to suggest. This is not an attempt at sainthood, or some “holier than thou” type of living, rather it is meant to be very simple and practical. As a member of the human family, and more specifically as a Christian, I think there are certain guidelines by which we should try and live our lives. As a society we already have some standards in place through governmental force (speeding) and simple public consensus (think making noise during a movie, cutting in a line, etc). The idea of living a dollar above the poverty line is simply another attempt at putting before us some sort of standard to live by.

The choice of the national poverty line was a simple one. Though we didn’t all actually discuss the choice of the national poverty line, it is the guideline we as a society have accepted as the indicator of poverty. It is a simple line, if your annual income is below that amount you are considered “in poverty” and you are eligible for certain help. If you have one dollar above that amount in your annual income you are NOT poor and we as a society agree you have the financial resources you need.

As a Christian I think there is a good case for us to not take more then we need (maybe like the manna in the desert), and to use what we have been given to contribute to the needs of those around us. That being said, we should probably be thinking about a guideline for ourselves to determine how much meets our “needs.” In a society of more wealth and resources then we’ve ever imagined, it’s hard to even admit that there might be a line below “whatever you can afford” by which we should live. I believe we as a church should be having this discussion together. And I believe that the national poverty line is a good guideline to start with.

So, I believe strongly that effective immediately, we should begin to try and live by the standard of one dollar above the poverty line. For my wife and I that means $13,201 a year. A monthly budget of about $1000.
Mindy and I have made series efforts throughout our marriage to make lifestyle changes to live within that amount. We’ve had roommates for a number of reasons, but one of them being the financial necessity of staying within our budget. We thought through and planned out a budget we try to stay within to make that budget possible. In all our attempts though, we still fall far short.

First, if you include the cost of Mindy’s college tuition, we are no where near a $1000 a month budget. The reality is anyone living at our nation’s poverty line will have a difficult time moving past that if they can’t afford an education. We also couldn’t have simply purchased a decent car last fall when ours broke down. Though we’ve made an effort to adjust our budget to accommodate the cost of the car, and a couple plane tickets home for Christmas, the reality is that if we truly didn’t have more then a poverty line income, we couldn’t make those large purchases when we needed to.

Second, the recognition of our inability to “survive” at the poverty line puts us in a compelling position to take political action. What that probably means is that you need to give your senator a call and tell them you believe the minimum wage and the poverty line should be raised. You should let your congress person know that you tried living near the poverty line and it just wasn’t possible without some extra help. And I guess if your not political, you could at least set-up an appointment with your pastor and tell them about the gap between those trying to survive and the places they can go to meet their needs. Forget politics for a second and we’ll come to the real meat of this post, the ability the church could have for good if we started living by a guideline that meets our needs and then meets the needs of others (rather then our own wants).

Can you imagine for a minute a church that adopted that sort of expectation for it’s members? In the same way many churches spend their efforts convincing their congregation that they should outlaw gay marriage, it would be refreshing and amazing to see pastors encouraging their congregations to radically change their current lifestyle. Imagine a church with doctors and school teachers, CEO’s and janitors all choosing to live at a standard that meets their needs and giving their extra resources to meet the needs of others. Shouldn’t we as Christian’s dictate our cost of living more as a group within the churches we attend than by the income we make?

This is meant to be an ongoing conversation. I haven’t set in stone this dollar amount as a standard for myself or others, but I believe their should be one. So let’s have the discussion, and let’s decide how we should live.

The Most Specific Bible Verse Related to Abortion

I think this might be the most specific verse in the Hebrew Scriptures related to the issue of abortion:

Exodus 21:22 “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Apparently, there has been much scholarly discussion and debate in recent years about this text and it’s implications on the issue of abortion. My personal perspective, upon reading it, is that it gives some indication that the treatment of the death of a fetus is different then the treatment of “serious injury” to the mother. With scholarly academics expounding on both sides of the issue, it’s hard to come to an adequate conclusion based on that evidence.

I think we should all be willing to accept questions or challenges to our own viewpoints. I am willing to accept challenges to my current thoughts. I first came across this verse when I still held an anti-abortion view. So, I’m curious what your impression of this scripture is. Try to be as unbiased as possible.

Book Review: The Church of 80% Sincerity by David Roche recently read The Church of 80% Sincerity by David Roche. I picked it up after reading a chapter in Anne Lamott’s book Plan B about Roche and how he had inspired her. His book was extremely interesting and touching as he walked through his life and reflected on how he’d come to create his “Church of 80% Sincerity”. It is a real church, to him, it more or less exist in his head, and the heads of others who’ve come to embrace the lessons and rules of living that he found have helped him to both cope and thrive in life.
Roche has a sever facial deformity. A bit of what he talks about centers around how that has impacted his life, but much of it is in a sort of retrospective fashion. He actually never talked about his face (beyond a brief physical explanation) to any friends, including a spouse, until he was forty-something. He grew up with what he’d described as a surprisingly normal childhood. His parents were very encouraging and he learned from them not to say anything about his deformity, because they never did.
What built up though, was years of unprocessed thoughts, deep feelings of pain and questioning that he could share with no one. And what is conveyed through the story, is that they are the same depths of insecurity that we almost all have. Roche points out that the out front physical deformity he carries serves as a mirror to the many inward insecurities that so many face.

It’s a great book and you should read it.

Is It Radical? Or Consistent Ethics?

(this is my first shot at this, so I hope there is no misunderstanding)

There is a large group of people in our society, who would consider themselves Christians and/or Republicans. I’m going to try and articulate some of their beliefs, as I understand them. Point out if I’m misrepresenting.

  • They believe war/violence is acceptable at times when the threat is severe enough (Iraq, Afghanistan, amongst others).
  • They believe in Capital Punishment; that some crimes warrant that person being killed.
  • They believe abortion is murder and is the cause of death of thousands of innocent lives every year. They describe it even as a genocide or a holocaust.

Am I on track so far? I hope I have not misconstrued anyones perspective, this is, to my understanding, what a lot of people believe. There is one last point that I have heard articulated from this same group.

  • They take great efforts to separate themselves from the “radicals” and “extremist” that have bombed abortion clinics or tried to kill abortion doctors in the past. In other words they make efforts not to be affiliated with those people or those crimes.

My question, to this group, is why do the people above get written off as “radical”? If you support violence for severe situations, wouldn’t infanticide clearly warrant violence, even a war against the perpetrators (abortion doctors and clinics) to stop the evil from taking place? Wouldn’t this be the same appropriate action as war in Iraq or Afghanistan, or Iran? Wouldn’t this meet the same criteria? It would seem that these group members aren’t “radicals” at all, they are simply following a consistent ethic of their beliefs.

This isn’t meant to be an attack, simply an area that I have a hard time understanding where this group stands and why. Please, someone, Enlighten me.

Birthday Youtubesday!

It’s my birthday. So if your looking for a youtubesdayish way to wish me happy birthday, might I suggest

I don’t know why (tribute to Zach and Keane) but this is what I felt like posting as a birthday video…

My only birthday wish is that I’ve had a positive impact on others lives, that I’ve loved my neighbor and followed God. If I’ve had a positive impact on your life I’d love to know how…email me.

On Neighborhoods and Tragedies

There was a tragedy on our block on Thursday. It’s hard to know how to respond to a situation like this. I didn’t personally know any of them, but plenty of neighbors did, and despite the encouragement of seeing people come together amidst the situation, it doesn’t make the difficulty of it any easier.

We’ve been on our block less then a year and I’m trying to do my best to be an observer and a learn. I’m trying to keep my ears and mind open to learn about the neighborhood and the community, and to learn about life.