Waking The Dead

In a couple of important ancient-history posts that came to my attention in the past month or so, John O’Keefe (at TheOoze) and Diana Baldwin (at ginkworld) write about the morbidity of the many congregations they visit. Their posts date from more than a year ago, so it’s possible that they have seen a dramatic reversal in church vitality — possible, but (from what I can tell) not likely.

Having come to the end of Kyle’s directed-study course on “emerging church,” I have built up a backlog of portentous advice on this general topic. Since I hate to waste a good backlog, I’ll unleash some of it online. My garrulousness does not constitute a warrant that I speak with particular authority. It just means that I’m advancing to the age that provokes people who should know better to talk and write on topics about which they don’t know enough.

But before I start, does anyone ever encounter pundit-consultants on church growth who say, “That’s not my kind of congregation at all — in fact they drive me crazy — but they provide a sterling example of one way that churches can thrive”? It’s all too easy to find hucksters who pitch a do-it-my-way gospel, whose favored one-size-fits-all approach defies he accumulated experience of generations in the church. I particularly respect a church consultant who can support the vitality of a congregation that’s not doing things his or her favored way.

That digression becomes relevant as I ponder, in discussion with Kyle, what point there might be to calling any congregations “emergent.” Pedantic as I am, I’ve insisted that the lexicography of “emergence” matters for an understanding of why one would apply the label in the first place (though usage will, over the long run, determine what it does mean). In a nutshell, I tend to think it most useful to identify as “emergent” those ecclesiastical tendencies that resemble emergent phenomena in nature (to this extent, “emergent church” can fairly be said to amount to Roland Allen’s Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: And the Causes That Hinder It in postmodern dress).

What about congregational life bears any resemblance whatever to emergence? I’ll try to write about that tomorrow, but in the meantime, go to the experts.

Where The Heart Is

It’s after midnight, Eastern Standard Time — soon enough for me to wish everyone in Blogaria a happy new year.

There’s much left over from last year for us to work toward ameliorating, even remedying, while in so working we are free from our bondage to the past’s limitations on our capacity for goodness and generosity. We can do better, and by grace, I trust we will. Thank you so much for the grace and charity you all show.

Amateur Design Geekery

Today Micah and I have spent the day fiddling with Seabury’s website. Our working space is at this site, which we’ll delete in a few weeks, when we go live with the final version of the new page.

The point of the exercise — not completely realized yet — is to get Seabury’s site into an easily configurable, easily up-dated, standards-compliant framework. We’ll use the categories feature from MT to organize the navigation links (as Dorothea showed us to do in her design for the Disseminary site). It will make life so much easier than editing a miscellany of inconsistent Dreamweaver pages with needless navigation Java.

Breaking News

Avocado Farm

Originally uploaded by AKMA.

About a week or ten days ago, Pippa started a new venture in experimental hydroponics: an avocado pit plantation. It began humbly enough — just two pits, one of which was a pretty poor excuse for an avocado from the outset, in two jam-jars on the kitchen counter. As you can see, her small-time start has blossomed into a modest industrial installation, soon to rival Del Monte or Monsanto or Archer Daniels Midland. In a few years, she’ll be holding the Super Bowl guacamole market hostage.

We’ll keep everyone apprised of the progress of the various pits. So far, three are cracking, and the one sad specimen (lower left) is not showing any prospect of vigor. The time to invest is now!

(Perhaps one can use avocados to power electrical devices, too.)

Strong Response, Weak Software

I think I remember with whom I was chatting the other day — I think I remember, but I won’t guess for the record — but one of my friends was trying to wrestle some appropriately-paginated footnotes out of Microsoft Word. I remember thinking, years and years ago, that I couldn’t believe that MSFT couldn’t make Word perform this simple task effectively; over the years, I’ve seen countless student papers and journal submissions whose footnotes were offset by a page in a way characteristic of Word. If my friend’s colorfully-expressed testimony provides reliable evidence, Microsoft still ships an expensive word processor that misplaces footnotes.

I don’t use Word, so I can’t speak from experience as a user, but as a reader and editor, I find that absolutely infuriating. There may well be a workaround, but users shouldn’’t have to figure that out. Word processors exist in order (among their very most brain-dead basic tasks) to place footnotes at the bottom of the page to which the notes pertain. If Microsoft can’t make the global standard word processor perform that function adequately, they should stop development on every other feature until they get that right.

Writing Better, More

The other day at the library book sale, I spotted a title that seemed to belong among my useful books about writing, Jefferson D. Bates’s Writing With Precision.

I only just looked it over yesterday, and saw with delight that Bates’s first principle of more effective writing is, “Prefer the active voice.” (Seabury students will moan inwardly as they read that advice.) He goes from that to advocate using strong, vivid verbs rather than inert “nominalized” forms, hewing to specific rather than vague expressions, and keeping related sentence elements near one another. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I still plump for Joseph Williams’s Style as my premier book on writing, but every reinforcement is welcome in the battle against empty, flaccid prose. Bates adds a section on outlining (absent from my second-hand copy, darn it, since I need someone to help me cultivate my outlining discipline) and exercises-and-answers that illustrate his principles of writing. Well done, more than worth the fifty cents I spent for it, and refreshing encouragement for my approach to writing.

Moderate Comments

When I reinstalled Moveable Type in the aftermath of the November Random Thought Meltdown, I was looking forward to the comment-handling capacities of the new version of MT. Even without Blacklist, which I expect I’ll install someday but haven’t gotten to yet, MT 3 promised to be a great deal more manageable realtive to unwelcome commercial comments than was MT 2. I’ve found my expectations amply fulfilled; it’s indescribably easier to find, select, and delete unwelcome comments.

There’s a cost, of course; the intervention of comment moderation probably damps the willingness of some visitors to leave comments (that was certainly what people said when SixApart introduced TypeKey), and I understand that. We’ve already seen visitors leave duplicate comments, since they weren’t sure that their original comment had been recorded. Moreover, I’m sure it’s frustrating to write a comment, only to see it disappear into a pending-moderation void. I wish I could conveniently pre-approve the regulars, so my friends could post directly, without awaiting moderation (presumably they could register with TypeKey, but let’s assume that they’ve already considered and declined that option). Commercial comment-bots would soon develop the capacity to spoof approved identities, anyway.

Short of a comprehensive solution to DigID problems (on which David has a cogent side-commentary at Worthwhile), we’re left with more or less satisfactory half-measures. So far, the frustrations that accompany comment-moderation don’t outweigh the ease with which the new version of MT fends off unwelcome commenters.

Merry Christmas

Star and Shadow

Originally uploaded by AKMA.

We slept well, rose late, enjoyed a pancake breakfast (apart from Margaret, whose gluten-free pancakes turned out disastrously), and eventually turned our attention to the packages surrounding the tree.

Beatrice started the gift portion of the day by tugging a stuffed critter from its wrapping. Plenty of warm clothes, a mechanical walking dinosaur (“for collectors not for children”!), a back-scratcher that Nate deployed as a universal prosthesis, Duke outerwear, and a relaxing day for all.

Merry Christmas!