Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Contemporary Worship

I will have to admit that I have certainly changed over the last 5 years in regards to my thoughts on worship.  I started out as a gung-ho advocate of contemporary worship and exploring all kinds of worship options to coming around 165 degrees on those ideas.  Now I find myself instead of being a gung-ho advocate to hopefully being a more conservative watchdog on practice and doctrine. 
After debating for so many years on the subject, many warnings and pitfalls were espoused to me over those early years.  I tended to imagine that they were the warnings and pitfalls of worry-warts and pessimists.   However over time I am seeing that the dangers are real.  Other congregations in the WELS have in my opinion gone over the top (jumped the Lutheran shark if you will) and left the realm of the reasonable and prudent.  They should just declare themselves a non-dom and then at least their confessions will match their practice. 

I have noted some of the dangers that have been noted in the blogosphere in the past do crop up here and there at Victory.  With so many new Christians in the church the spiritual maturity is just not there and left unchecked that could steer a church in the wrong direction.  I stay at Victory because I believe the Pastor keeps a good doctrinal discipline even in the face of a large number of members who are not very doctrinally astute.  Victory also prominently and regularly provides the sacraments, has confession and absolution, a rock solid message with a good balance of Law and Gospel, and uses traditional hymns (albeit in contemporized form of a band) in its service.
I will admit that of the warnings and such I have heard over the years there are a few things I just don’t worry about.  On-screen projection of the order of service, hymns, readings,  etc are not a problem.  They are quite helpful.  I don’t care if it is for a smells and bells traditional service or a contemporary service.  It’s just a good way to guide people through.  Yes they can use the front of the hymnal.  Yes they can use it listed in the bulletin and Yes, it can be on the screen.  I will admit that I like that our Pastor does NOT put up graphics in his sermons except very very rarely.  I think this makes a big difference in how his messages come across and minimizes distraction.

The second thing I just can’t get worked up about is contemporizing hymns.  I don’t think playing classic Lutheran hymns by a band makes the music “evangelical” or anthropomorphic or less focused on Christ as the center of worship.  I suppose there is always someone or some artsy fartsy person who is “feeling” the music or someone noticing the devil’s chords or deciding that distortion on a guitar in some interlude is taking the focus off of Christ.  But for me personally, I don’t see the difference in the song being played by a band or a church organ.  It’s the words that count..not the style. I’ll be honest here, although I recognize the dangers in the warnings of music style affecting worship, I believe the problem of letting this happen is simply weakness or Christian immaturity.

However, this leads me to what I have come to dislike a decent amount and that is in finding good modern songs. So I have no problems with modern styles but I have a growing problem with modern song content.  Except for a few modern songs we do that I totally dislike for their over sanctified messages( with no reference to the justification that would prompt such sanctified activities) , the songs we play are reasonably acceptable in content (yet certainly not rich in content…but they don’t totally fail).  However I think I dislike the praise song format more and more.  The endless refrains and repetition…OMG.  Is it bad if the sound guy loses track of where we are and just is waiting for a song to mercifully end? Yeah if I never heard another song in church written after say…1940 I would be happy.  I would love to transform Victory to play band versions of TLH.  That would be sort of Koine-like I suppose.  I know I am in the minority at Victory on this as I get older and more curmudgeon-like.  I hear people asking for more modern content and asking the questions why we keep those old hymns in there.  Sigh.  The irony is that I have been in traditional services where the music is focused and on message but the sermon was often poorly focused.  Here I get great sermons but our music is poorly focused.

In another post I will put down my thoughts on larger debates within the WELS as I have also transformed a bit on some of these brewing issues as well.

Victory Update

To refresh your memories, just over 5 years ago we left our large congregation of St. Paul’s Lutheran in Muskego to join a small band of people which was about 12 in size at the time to start a mission congregation in Franklin, WI.  This congregation was started as a daughter congregation of St. Paul’s and is a bit different from most other congregation starts in the WELS.  The first goal was that this church would not be the typical daughter congregation which simply became a new regionally convenient church for existing WELS members.  This mission was chartered to be a church trying to reach the unchurched in a rapidly growing suburban area.  This mission was started with only a few people and hardly any money.  We called a pastor who had hardly anyone or anything as resources to help him get going. 

However God has blessed this mission and it is growing and doing what it has been chartered to do.  The list of weird things that can happen to a nomadic mission church is becoming ever longer. The Polonia Soccer Club provided many such stories involving sewage, furnaces, power outages, and the dealings with the aftermath of countless QuinceaƱera’s.  Now we have been meeting in Showtime Cinema for a couple of years and our troubles are different.  Now we have to change our Bible class time because of the theater’s contractual obligations to show JarJar Binks the proper number of times per day.  Seriously..who needs to see JarJar Binks at 11:30 on a Sunday….or ever.
I continue to help with the sound system control and more recently in beginning our webcast streaming. It was unfortunate that right when I was beginning the streaming, that Marcus Cinema’s bought Showtime and discontinued the internet connection. So now I am creating a webcast after the fact and posting it instead of being able to stream it live. Oh well. I still host and maintain the website and podcasts etc. Katie is an active member of the Bible Quest team at least for seven more weeks.
However the congregation continues to evolve.  We have been self-supporting for the last three years. We have added a half-time pastor and a half-time Children’s Ministry Director.  We have roughly 200 members and even our 270 person theater is getting more and more crowded each Sunday.  We have incorporated and are in the process of separating our books from big mamma St. Paul’s, Muskego who has graciously been providing bookkeeping and office staff support for us all this time.  We are in the midst of finalizing a 17 acre land purchase at the intersection of Loomis and Ryan Road.  This will be exciting to begin the next phase in finding a permanent home.  Honestly it is tough to find space to accommodate this many people in southwestern Franklin.  Also it will be nice to not have to pull out an entire church from behind the screens and setup up everything every Sunday morning and then take it all down after the service.  However I’m sure the building part will still be another 5 years away if I was to guess. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Children

The oldest got married last February as noted in the post, "The Wedding".  Zach married his high school sweetheart after 5 years of annoying her.  There were a couple of years in there where they were not dating, but you'd hardly know it from the phone minutes and long conversations at the weekly parties etc.  I would note several ironic points in this period of "not dating" is that even when Zach made a few attempts with other girls in his circle they would tell them "Oh I couldn't date you, You and Chrissy aren't done yet."  Well their prediction came true and they are now married.  They live in Jacksonville, NC where Zach is still stationed at New River Air Station.  Chrissy is a daycare teacher at a local daycare. They have a nice duplex there which is now filled with the sounds of a baby....kitten.  Well and also Momma Cat, the stray cat that adopted them and likes to produce kittens.  We got to visit with our grandcat and great grandkitten over Christmas as they came with Zach and Chrissy for the holidays.  Zach has 1.75 years left with the Marine Corps and is looking forward to getting out.  He is working on an entrepreneurial venture that I think has some promise and hope that he can launch right into it.

The middle child.  Oh good Lord, the middle child.  Since Katie graduated she has been working as a daycare teacher.  First she was at a large daycare center in Muskego and now is at the School of Early Learning at St. Paul, Muskego,  the latter situation being a much more pleasant environment.  She has been much happier at SOEL and the higher standards, more attentive ratios, and just overall dedication to the kids there.  However these positions have only been a temporary stepping stone to Katie's choice for a future.  On March 27th, Katie is leaving for Basic Training for the Air Force in San Antonio, TX.  She has been waiting for the right career within the Air Force to open up and she finally got it.  Her position will be as a Linguist.  We don't find out the language she will be assigned until just before going to the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey, CA after Basic training is done.  It is a tough school and position.  Depending on the language she could be there for a year to up to 20 months for the most difficult languages.  She tested very high so she could get any of the top tier (difficult) languages such as Korean, Chinese, or Arabic.  Arabic has been the most common assignment out of those three, but Korean might be a significant focus these days. After Katie is done with school she will fulfill a 6 year obligation sitting somewhere in the world, or in an airplane above the world, listening and reading conversations and translating them for Air Force intelligence.  I have said this before that God created something that naturally tells both the child and the parents when they need to leave the house.  That time is now.  For Zach it was 3 months before he graduated from high school.  I realize that in modern society children don't leave well and they come back etc..modern society is stupid.  In any case I'm proud of Katie for sorting out what she wants and taking control of her future and just going for it.  It is nice to have a multi-branch family as well.  There are more marathons to run now.

Ike with his ever present Michelle, a Psuedo child of ours and
Ike's best friend in the world
The baby has been on cruise control.  He continues his online high school.  It is going well. There is always a little butt kicking needed to make sure everything is in by the last day of the semester but in general it is going well.  We accelerated his classes so that he can finish high school in three years.  That means that this year he is a Junior.  This also catches him up a bit to his age group and all his friends who are Juniors and Seniors as well.  He has worked at a sports card shop for a while and now is a dishwasher at a nice restaurant in Hales Corners.  When not working or doing school he spends a ton of time with his friends.  For a kid who is not in a brick and mortar school, he far exceeds the other kids in his social interaction.  He had a girlfriend there for a while but he is a picky and particular person and only the right person will do.  Ike is planning on joining the military as well after high school.  However he should not exceed God's natural desire for him to leave the house at the appointed time.  That time is no later than July 15th, 2013.  The question will be which branch will he join.  I don't think it will be the Marines but it might.  It might be a toss-up between Air Force and Army based on which has the best career paths. The Marines might make it in there even if Zach is a negative Nancy on the concept of the military life in general and Marines specifically.  It is true that a passive aggressive, technical minded person who is not a "Moto-Marine" may not appreciate the structure they provide for the common jarhead, however, Ike is a different animal in this respect and very well may be more Marine-like. However if Ordnance Disposal doesn't work out perhaps he can work as the activities director on a cruise ship.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Further Thoughts on Corporate IS

NM is a great company.  I won't deny them that.  However, in the nearly 10 years I was there the majority of IS has changed  into a very heavy, process driven, risk averse, department that is greatly hampered by their consensus driven approach to development. There are pockets of some "entrepreneurial" software development and experimental projects and of course the Architect group itself that I would have liked to get into but these positions are few and far in-between.  Ultimately you are still part of a larger organization that is becoming sloth-like and fat.

I think a big thing for me was that philosophically I was not anywhere close to where NM has gone.  NM IS has gone totally post-modern.  If you want to talk about the art of framing conversations and understanding one another by creating a shared understanding well This is the place for you.  There is no right or wrong (but you are wrong if you act without a shared understanding) and hence decisions cannot be made unless the entire team has come to a common understanding.  That's at the project level.  This drives me insane.  If we were agile we could make the call, get something out there and iteratively improve the idea as it is flushed out or change it if needed.  Instead we talk about it for weeks till we all feel warm and fuzzy inside. 
At the IS management level it includes coming to a common understanding on the process we follow.  They tried "healthy Conflict" as an IS virtue for a while but that was squashed quickly along with the new innovative VP they brought in who was advocating it.  So depending on the manager of course you either go with the flow of this happy land of consensus building and creating shared understandings or you are not onboard with the program and anathema to IS.  I had some good managers in the past that appreciated the "healthy conflict" I brought to the table but those managers have all but disappeared.  What I ended up with was a dyed in the wool, 100% post-modern loving, company woman who just got her masters in something as well.  Being a new manager, she only read the company line out of the manual.  We did not have a shared understanding.  So it was just as well I moved on because there would be no joy in continuing our relationship.  I understand the kind of person I am.  I know I was not what NM IS wanted and was continually forced to decide whether I should just play the game or not. 
I am what a small shop wants because they need to make a profit and meet deadlines on limited budget.  I like to surround myself with people who are opposite myself and argumentative.  No shrinking violets and wallflowers please.  No one who is timid, shy, or intimidated and for heaven's sake...this is software's not personal. You don't need to cry if we don't like your idea or we change it or shred it. Better luck next time.  One of the best development situations I had at NM was with a friend of mine from Russia.  He is cantankerous, blunt, and very talented.  He had no problems telling it like it was.  I can always hear him in my head in his Russian accent saying "That's just stupid.. you should design it this way..."  In another conversation with a Manager and a Director in the room he said something to the effect of, "Let me make this simple so a manager can understand..."  It was beautiful.  I think the accent is what I need.  I could say anything with an accent and then I'm just eccentric.
I guess it goes to my nature that you should stand for what you believe in.  There is right and there is wrong.  When something needs to be done...the most important thing is to do something.  If it fails, I'm fine with that and I'll take responsibility if it needs to be taken but then go forward and try it again and learn from your mistakes and keep trying. Everything is not personal.  You don't need to make me feel warm and fuzzy to go ahead with something.  Actually, I find that the best people in the various roles are the ones I dislike the most and would totally hire myself.  That project manager who bugs the crap out of you for statuses and updates yet has a handle on every deliverable and dependency?  Love that PM even if I hide from her and physically cringe when she pops up at the desk.  Combative App Engineer who tells you your designs are flawed?  Love it.  However I think the large corporate atmosphere is totally self-absorbed into the post-modern thought and these kinds of things literally blow their minds in an era where we should be about toleration, consensus and accepting.
Well in keeping with the theme, the most important part is that I'm happy right? ;-)  Well I am and it really has made a difference in how I feel.

The Job

2011 was a big change for me in the career front.  Well the change was really only for the last two months but changing jobs was a big deal. For the last 9.5 years I have been working at Northwestern Mutual in essentially 3 different roles.  The first 3 years I worked in Enterprise Business Intelligence designing large enterprise data warehouses and reporting databases.  The next 3 years I spent reverse engineering, re-engineering and improving an enterprise content management system consisting of a diverse mix of technology making it intricate and almost exciting.  The last 3.5 years I spent as an application architect/application engineer working on various projects from batch run web services, and a number of Websphere applications.

Although those last 3.5 years started out promising with interesting web apps to create with a good amount of autonomy and even a touch of cutting edge that was quickly derailed when the economy tanked.  NML froze most every new project I was to be working on.  As a way to preserve local employees, they sent a few hundred contractors back to India and diverted resources such as myself, who had no projects to work on anymore, to fill the gaps left by departed contractors.  This started a 2.5 year slide into software development doldrums.  I got some roles that were not a great fit for an Application Architect and subsequently lost a lot of interest in the field.  For a while there, I would have taken a job at Walmart and been happier.  Add on all the new direction for IS, the little box I was relegated to with the use of "Career Frameworks" and the heavy move to what I guess adds up to any standard big company process driven overhead BS, and I just was dying inside.
So after years of being hidden away and never having a thought of looking for another job, a former acquaintance hooked me up with a company looking for a .NET Web Solutions Architect.  It sounded great but I had one phone interview and hadn't heard anything for a while.  The thought that I could look elsewhere did fuel my interest in checking out the job market and seeing what was out there.  Well in the realm of technology there is not a job shortage.  I put a resume out there and I was getting calls daily for contracting positions in various technologies.  I applied for a few permanent positions at the behest of various headhunters and had some phone interviews for a few of them.  This was handy because I was going to be picky and I didn't want to settle plus I needed the interview practice.  I found that often the job as initially presented is not what the job really is.  The position at Kohls was just NM but even more limited in scope. The position at Heiler, although work from home and well-paying,  really was nothing than a road warrior java coder. The position at nVisia seemed decent but I was interviewed by the Java guy for a .Net position.

In any case, the first position I interviewed for called back and we arranged several more interviews and after another long wait I finally got the call while I was out in Washington DC for the Marine Corps Marathon.  In getting to know this company, I realized it was exactly what I was looking for and that I would be able to yank my career right back to where I had wanted it to be in the first place.  I now have an architect position,  I am free from most corporate BS.  I am rated on my ability to deliver on scope schedule and cost and I have the decision making authority to make the call and just happens.  It still blows me away after two months.  It shows the level of how entrenched I was becoming that it is like a new miracle every day that what I do directly impacts a project or that I can just make the call and it is acted upon.  Such a great relief.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ghetto Running

My winter routine this year is that each day I run the 7 miles from my downtown Milwaukee office to home.  Most of this run is through a questionable part of town which gradually improves as I increase the street numbers.  Early in my run, I was amused when I apparently quite stealthily ran around three teenage girls in the Third Ward and one of them screamed a piercing scream as only a teenage girl can.  The other two just laughed.  I laughed too.

However, midway home I had my first incident in two years of running/biking this route.  As strange as it may sound, a stereotypical ghetto car came along and a stereotypical gentleman with traditional ghetto garb that seriously lacked a belt, leaned out and whipped something at me.  It hit me squarely in the back of my backpack thankfully and bounced off.  He was not aware that I am aptly protected by my tablet and I'm pretty sure my laptop can stop bullets. 

I give my less than civil, small minded ethnic friend 3 points for the well placed hit.  Nailing a target from a moving vehicle to that degree of accuracy was admirable and they might consider any offers the Brewers might make to augment their pitching staff.  However, I have to deduct 5 points for using his welfare baby's gerber peas as the projectile of choice.  So I salute you my friend and tonight I will toast your future with a 40oz and a bucket o' chicken as you so carefully pelt those who excercise with your baby's food.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Health

Continuing my recap of 2011 I wanted to cover my hobby that consumes the most time which is running and biking. I had started the process of losing 65lbs on March 15th, 2010. On September 15th, 2010, I accomplished that goal. Since that time, I have been maintaining my running and biking habits. From April to December I bike 100-140 miles a week. I run year-round about 35 miles a week unless I'm training for a marathon. I have become partial to doing Duathlons which is a combination of running and biking but I also do fun runs and a winter running series of 10K's. In May of 2011 I ran the Madison Half Marathon. In July I did a 175 mile bike ride for Lymphoma. In October, I completed the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC.

I am now two races into the 5 race Winter running series but am not performing as well as last year due to some recurring calf pulls that come and go ever since the marathon. In any case, I am staying in the routine and maintaining my weight around 180 and my health numbers are all great. Here and there I throw in the snowboarding and this year I would like to get that in a bit more. It feels good to reclaim my health, and breath, and energy but I can tell the moment I stop it will not go well. Guess I need to keep it up for life.