Will There Be Christian Robots?

We are handing more and more of our human duties over to machines.

My phone is basically writing my texts for me because it is learning my patterns of communication and use of words. Human chess players are already competing in tournaments, not against machines, but with the machines in what is known as freestyle or advanced chess. Does anyone know anything anymore or do we just know to see if Google knows?

This isn’t just the stuff of movies but a reality to what will be present in 20 years. We are starting to get to the point where we will have to think about where the human ends and the machine begins. The next step will be a human-machine mashup that is something all together different.

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If we haven’t already, we are going to have to start thinking about what is a human and how should it live in the age of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and transhuman technologies. There are already Transhuman theologies popping up. What will be the Church’s answer to this?

Maybe my machine hasn’t fed me the right articles, but I have seen very little written or talked about that tries to provide a Christian response to this rise of the machine. But I have read Kevin Kelley’s The Inevitable and I have listened to this podcast and read this article from secular minds trying to come to grips with this near future. Christians seem to be behind the curve on this.

Too many Christians want to have bullet proof beliefs to take into debates with Atheists or Buddhists or Muslims, but what we really need to be focused on is demonstrating how Christianity is the best way for humans to live.  To present a Jesus Way of being human that has traits, characteristics, and values that humans would be foolish to lose in the age of machines.

It sounds absurd, but there will be serious discussions and thought being paid to what makes a human and how that is different, and should be different, from artificial intelligence. What a great time for Christians to exemplify that the best choice for human existence is a life taught, inspired, transformed, and developed through Jesus Christ. Our goal shouldn’t be to win some debate but to demonstrate that Christ’s way is the future of our existence.

The Miracle of What We Don’t Want, Part 3

I have discussed the situation I found myself in here. I have also discussed how God directed me to lead with Spiritual Formation and Discipleship in mind.

Now, I will tell you about a few of the things we tried and how they worked.

Daily Prayer. Everyday at 9:30, any staff that wants to meet gathers for prayer. I will usually read a few verses and we will discuss it briefly.  Then, we will take prayer requests. When you have a fellow colleague who dies during the semester, there was no shortage of the need to pray. When another librarian loses her father and another one has a daughter with cancer, we have spent many of these daily prayer times crying, sharing with one another, and connecting in powerful ways.

Staffing With a Mission. We had many positions to fill. Our first priority was a part time person who could run our Circulation Desk. This person would be working closely with a large team of student workers. I wanted to find someone that could be more than a supervisor but could invest in and mentor our student workers. I needed someone with a minister’s heart. We found a Doctoral Student who was a former children’s minister and loved connecting with others. She could do the ins and outs of the job but she also could show love, care, and compassion for our student workers. She was an answer to prayer.

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The flier for Nuggets and Knowledge

Nuggets and Knowledge. I wanted to find ways to connect with our student workers beyond work. I had hoped to help develop what are known as soft skills with our students. And, I wanted to demonstrate and discuss how Christ changes how I work, parent, listen, and lead. I knew that I could meet with our male student workers and our new Circulation supervisor could meet with the females. I purchased a 30 count platter of nuggets and invited our guys to come to my office for lunch. I called it Nuggets and Knowledge. We were able to meet one time but I plan on making it a monthly occurrence. Our first meeting was a great opportunity to get to know each other and for me to share a little of my story.

The Value of Service. I couldn’t tell you how many times on our campus, I have heard people talk about experiencing something different when they arrived, the presence of God even. I have heard it so many times that I don’t think it is hyperbole. It is my desire that people have the same experience when they walk into the library. YES, the library. I want people to have a sense that something important is happening in our corner of the campus and that God must be a part of that. One way we can make this a reality is through our quality of service. We are training our student workers to smile and look up, to take extra time with our patrons, and to take their tasks seriously for the betterment of those they are serving.

I have only been Interim for one semester and I really don’t know what the future holds and I am not too concerned by it. I know that God has called me for this time and place and I want to honor that calling. The rest is out of my hands. No matter what happens, I can know that I did what I was asked to do and I did it in a way that fit with who I am and who God has made me.

The Miracle of What We Don’t Want, Part 2

When I was asked to be the Interim Director of the library I had a problem. I mentioned this at the end of the last post.

Why had God allowed me to pursue something like the Apprentice Experience, why had I gone through the effort of trying to start a ministry, why was I passing myself off as Spiritual Formation expert through blogging and mentoring if God’s plan for me was to have a management position full of paper work, budgets, staffing headaches, and limited resources? What was the point of all of my efforts to help others Grow Up if God had something unrelated in mind. This is not what I asked for.

Still, I was willing to be obedient, I was willing to fill the role and fulfill my obligations, but I couldn’t see past the drudgery and the administrative aspects that I knew I would hate. One evening after a day of work and trying to ride the wave of all that was going on, I was walking to my car and it hit me. In a revelatory way that is a Godly mixture of surprise and perfect sense, it was laid before me that, “why can’t you do both?”

Yes, I could do both. I could bring all that I have learned through the Apprentice Experience, through my years of studying and caring about issues of Spiritual Growth, and my care for other people’s spiritual life and blend it into my role in running a library.  I was at Dallas Baptist University for crying out loud, it wasn’t like I would be barred from bringing the spiritual into the workplace? I began to envision a work environment where our staff could connect and care for one another, where our student workers could grow and develop as adults, professionals, and believers, and our student patrons could be inspired, invigorated, and blessed by our work. God helped me see a library that could be a beacon of light and learning on the campus.

Just minutes before, I was dreading the next to-do item, the next crisis, the next urgent moment of overwhelm. Now, after God told me I could do both, ideas started flooding into my mind. I had inspiration after inspiration for ways to develop our staff, to enrich our spiritual lives, and to serve our students. I went from being just a person with added responsibility to a leader who had the inspiration and the Spirit-led direction to change things up, to try out new things, and to attempt to be who Christ would be if he were name Interim Library Director.

What did I have to lose? So I gave it a shot.

Find out what I have tried and how God has worked in Part 3 on Monday.

 

The Miracle of What We Don’t Want, Part 1

I had hoped and knew something new was happening. There was a stirring, a combination of incidents, and a level of uneasiness. I thought God was providing something new in my career. Not a new job but maybe a new side gig or teaching opportunity.

I just couldn’t shake this interest and even calling I had for helping people grow spiritually, for helping people become disciples of Jesus Christ. Last spring, I began to pray that God would make it clear to me what he wanted from me, that he would provide a way to something that matched my longings and interest.

I took a few matters into my own hands.

First, I signed up for the Apprentice Experience. I wanted to scratch the itch I had to learn and experience community among like-minded individuals.  Also, to chronicle my experience and to help raise a little money, I started this blog. I had grand ideas that this blogging and learning would morph into a ministry. I wanted to go into churches and lead workshops on Growing Up in Christ or be a retreat speaker. I wanted to be sought after as an expert on gaining spiritual maturity. And I kept praying that God would bring these ideas into fruition. That my ministry, even my career, would see a change.

I felt that it was time. I never expected this.

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Shannon Kokoska via Flickr Creative Commons)

In the matter of a week back in December, a colleague of mine resigned, the Director of the Library announced that she would be stepping down at the end of the month and I was now being asked to be the Interim Director. Remember that I had been praying for some kind of change, for God to make it clear to me what new direction he was guiding me towards.

But really God? This is what you came up with? A managerial job in the midst of a wave of turnover and upheaval? We were already losing one librarian, one was stepping down soon, and another was in the hospital just weeks away from her death. This is not the smooth, well-organized chance to do ministry that I was counting on.

This was going to be drudgery and really, really hard. Thanks a lot God.

Read Part 2 on Wednesday.

Why I Am Not A Dad Blogger

I am a parent but I hardly write about parenting. I am a husband but I hardly write about marriage. I hold a managerial job but I haven’t mentioned leadership on this blog. I am a member of a church but I barely mention church. I am a citizen of a democracy but I avoid political discussions and social commentary.

What is my problem? Am I avoiding these things?

This blog is about the maturity, wisdom, character development, and renovation of the heart that comes from the transforming power of Christ. My whole point of writing this blog is so that other people can find ways and methods and inspiration to be the Jesus they would be if Jesus were they.

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If individuals reading this can find growth in love, in compassion, in service, in sacrifice, in perseverance, and humility then their marriages will be improved and their parenting will be less selfish and their work will be more excellent and their participation in church will be more intentional.

I could make every post on this blog a listicle on how to have a great marriage but the heart of the matter wouldn’t change. I need the transforming power of Christ in my life in order to be the person, in all of its states and phases, that blesses others and makes a real difference.

I have a lot of work to do and so do you but the surest way to reach stronger, healthier, and blessed aspects of our lives is to follow Jesus, do what Jesus does, and be like Jesus is.

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” Colossians 1:28-29

Vulnerability Is A Game Changer

Vulnerability has been a theme running through many of the readings we have done through the Apprentice Experience.

My friend Kris has taken vulnerability on as a calling and has seen great progress in his own life and among others willing to do it. He encouraged me to be more vulnerable on the blog and I have tried to tell more of my story instead of just passing along nuggets of expertise.

But what is vulnerability?

James Bryan Smith discussed the book The Cure with us at Gathering 2. He addressed a section called “Living With Nothing Hidden.” This section had this to say about vulnerability: “Instead of pretending we are “doing fine,” give others an opportunity to love us…and they will.”

I know that I would much rather tell people I am doing fine than have to get into the complexities of my Dad’s battle with Cancer or the stress of being an Interim Director of a College Library. I have this fear that if I do give people the opportunity to love me, they will blow me off or give superficial responses or barely listen or quickly move on to themselves.

I have to realize that the benefits of being vulnerable far outweigh any rejection or lack of validation that might come from taking the vulnerability risk.

I have tried being more open, I have tried to tell more of my story, I have tried taking responsibility for my failures as well as my successes. And I have received back true connection with people, true encouragement, and opportunities for growth in my own life.

Most of all, I have felt closer to the will of God. Vulnerability has led me to take risks and to let God guide me instead of me trying to manage every circumstance. This has brought deeper friendships, rewarding ministry opportunities, better blogging, and a deeper understanding of myself.

Are you willing to give others an opportunity to love you and to give God a better chance to work through you?

Then try a little vulnerability.

The Prayers That Get Me Through The Day

I never thought of myself as a prayer warrior but then I started to count up all of the prayers I say that get me through the day. I realized that I consistently pray memorized prayers. For some of these, they surface without me even trying to pray them.

I use the Jesus Prayer the most when I am in line at the grocery store or trying to get food in a buffet line. Apparently, these are very anxious moments for me.

I say a prayer of St. Aidan’s, “I am going now into the sleep: O be it in Thy dear arm’s keep, O God of grace, that I shall awake” at bedtime. I say this not just for myself but everyone of my kids has had this prayer said over them throughout their life, especially when sick or disturbed.

The first few lines of the Lord’s Prayer always seem to be on my lips when I have my prayer time each morning.

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I say Philippians 3:10-11 when I want to be reminded of my deepest desire and the sacrifice I need to be able to endure. Sometimes I just say, “Lord help me,” over and over.

When I am at church I ask for God’s power to be present. This is my prayer because I once read a book about deep Christian spiritual experiences and it seemed that this was a common prayer voiced by great Christian leaders of the past.

When I am in a deep quandary and despondent about the state of the world and the hopelessness I see, I pray some of the final words of the Bible, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

On long runs, I will recite the 23rd Psalm. There is something about saying, “He leads me on paths of righteousness…,” while actually on a path that helps drive home the point.

This is my way of praying without ceasing. These prayers are half out of desperation most of the time but they keep me connected to God, keep me looking around for God’s work, and convict me when my thoughts and my worries, instead of God’s promises and reassurances, have taken over.

What are your go to daily prayers or Godly reminders?

The Right Thing To Do Should Never Be A Luxury

Have you heard about the psychological study of the seminary students and the Story of the Good Samaritan?

Researchers had seminary students prepare a talk/sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The students were then asked to go to the next building and deliver their message. On the way to the other building, a man was placed who was slumped, moaning, and coughing. The researchers wanted to know how the students would react to the needy man, especially since they had just been studying and thinking about the Good Samaritan.

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Watts, Manchester Art Gallery

Overall, only 40% of the students helped the needy man. One thing the researchers did that changed the results significantly was tell some of the students that they were running late and they needed to get over to the other building quickly. The students who were not in a hurry helped 63% of the time while those who were in a hurry helped only 10% of the time.

One of the conclusions of the researchers was that thinking on a particular ethical lesson does not mean that our behavior would match that ethic. The authors of the study stated, “Ethics become a luxury as the speed of our daily lives increases.”

This study was not done two years ago in the age of mobile devices and social media but in 1973, before the Walkman was even invented!

I love this study because it convicts me in all the right ways. Have I studied something important but failed to live it out? Yes. Have I left others in need because I had more “important” things to do? Yes. Does hurriedness shape my choices and reactions in a negative way? Yes.

We aren’t capable, at least I am not, of treating every moment as a sacred moment but we are capable of treating every moment as an opportunity to demonstrate our love and faith in Jesus. Why do you think the Gospels are full of the miracles, service and compassion of Jesus? It is not just so we can feel proud of this God we serve but so we can have an example of what it looks like to live out what you believe. Without the willingness and effort to act out our beliefs, we really don’t have much belief to speak of.

What Most Small Groups Are Missing

I don’t trust myself for honest feedback, so I was skeptical at Gathering 2 of the Apprentice Experience when we were asked, in our small groups, to provide feedback to others in the group.

We were asked to think about a person in our group and say one thing about them that has been a blessing. Then, we were asked to share one challenge of something that we would want to see more of from them.

A very churchy phrase in my circles is “accountability partner.” This is someone or someones that we can confess our sins to and they will hold us accountable to not do these things, and vice versa. While we all need someone like that in our lives, I discovered that groups can do much more than hear and provide accountability for our battle against sin. They can help bring growth and be a place that cultivates maturity and the work of the Holy Spirit.

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Keith Matthews presented to us what he calls A Cycle of Transformational Learning. Envision a circle with Content/Information at the top of the circle; Spiritual Practices/Exercises at the bottom of the circle; and Feedback/Debrief along the side of the circle.

I like this cycle idea because I have seen how information without practice can be so dry and lifeless and, on the flip side, practice without proper information can be directionless. But what about feedback ties these two together? Because we don’t know what we don’t know and we need others to bring insights to the table that we might need to consider and think on.

When my small group mentioned some things about me and what they needed to see more of, I was surprised and doubtful but then I began to hear these same words echoed from other people as well as in other situations. So there words have led to an area of growth and discovery in me and I am truly grateful for their feedback.

photo credit: Portland Seminary

So You Want To Be A Superstar

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to do something great. I wanted to be known for my accomplishments, to be sought after for my significance, to be well known, even famous.

There is no denying the pride, greed, envy, and jealousy that is inherent in such ambitious thoughts. And I am guilty of all of these. But lately, I have tried to come to terms with this particular character trait of mine. I have worked to determine if God has placed some of this desire in me for a purpose or if this is just a thorn in my side that I will struggle with for a lifetime.

Before I begin to rationalize a dangerous character flaw, it might be good if I studied the life of Jesus and looked to see what he had to say about ambition, quest for greatness, and significance. I came across a story where two of his disciples, along with their mother, ask Jesus for special places of power when his kingdom is fully realized.

Jesus first ask if these disciples are willing to follow Jesus into hardship and difficulty?Then he tells them that in order to be great you must be a servant. You must not seek to be served but to serve. He even mentions himself, and his mission on Earth to serve.

I don’t know what you think about when you read this story but what hit me is that there is nothing wrong with the ambition to be great as long as I am working to be great within the Kingdom of God and not the world. Also, am I willing to follow Jesus into suffering if that is required? Finally, am I willing to be a servant?

For the two disciples, James and John, that Jesus spoke to in the story, each one received significance and are considered great in the history of Christianity. But their greatness came about through their focus on Christ, through their suffering, and their quest to serve. Two thousand years later, we are still talking about them.

As for me, part of my quest for significance is partly a quest for a calling from God. But once I find that calling, and I think I might have, I better be willing to suffer and to serve others or my efforts are little more than selfish fulfillment seeking.