The Human in AI – Comment Magazine

Current Affairs / Religion / Web/Tech

Having co-written a piece with Kirk Smith on some practical ways that AI might be useful in small church ministry; I feel like I should point people to this longer, much more thoughtful article by Prof. Walter J. Scheirer on how AI might impact what it is to be a human being in the years to come:

The Human in AI – Comment Magazine:

The Portuguese political scientist Bruno Maçães has argued in his recent book History Has Begun that imaginative mythmaking on the internet is upending society in ways that were inconceivable a generation ago. This, Maçães tells us, is a phenomenon that we should not fear but embrace. In his words, “technology has become the new holy writ, the inexhaustible source of the stories by which we order our lives.” Today’s internet is the natural culmination of decades of thought on the future role of media and the engineering to bring new media systems about, beginning in the mid-twentieth century and spanning to the present. A brief overview of the intellectual progression of the technologies that AI depends on will help shed some light on how we got to this moment in history.

The understanding of the internet as a creative space can be traced directly to the media theories of Marshall McLuhan. Far from the bland corporate vision of the internet as an “information superhighway,” McLuhan had a more immersive plan for the media systems of the near future based on where he saw the underlying technology going. “In this electric age,” he says in Understanding Media, “we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness.” Propelling this idea, Kevin Kelly, the futurist and founding editor of Wired magazine, dubbed McLuhan “the Patron Saint of the Internet” in 1993 and ensured that it was McLuhan’s thinking on the media that shaped the culture of Silicon Valley. In explaining the investment McLuhan and Kelly had in the project of high-tech creation, the writer Nick Ripatrazone has drawn attention to something not generally associated with Silicon Valley: both were practicing Christians. And like Maçães today, they, too, saw the wellspring of technologically mediated storytelling as a path toward a wholly new and good universe defined by the collective imagination of humanity.

Much more to think about at the link above.

If you’re not subscribing to Comment, you really should be. It’s a wonderful source for thoughtful, faithful engagement with ideas and modern culture.

Salvation history is all around us, if we can see it though the clouds that obscure our sight.

Sermons and audio

The men in bright white clothes standing amidst the cloudsThe past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” said L.P. Hartley in his novel “The Go-Between.

We think we know what is going on when we read accounts of ancient doings, but truth be told, what we experience when we hear accounts of things that happened long ago is necessarily filtered through our present experience. We simply aren’t able to inhabit the mental structures, ideas, experiences and symbolic meaning of things that have gone before us. We can explain the contexts, but everything will be an approximation.

That’s true for what we do when we recreate a liturgical setting, and it’s true when we read the Gospel. It’s particularly true this week, as we hear the very familiar account of the transfiguration.

Familiar? Yes. It’s in all three of the Synoptic (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Gospels, and in all three it comes in the same place in the same order of events. Jesus goes to the head of the Jordon at the base of Mt. Hermon, is proclaimed Messiah by Peter, explains that he means to invade Hell itself. And then the party ascends to the summit of Mt. Hermon (according to modern scholarship), and is seen, transfigured, by his three closest disciples. Familiar? Yes. We hear it multiple times (3?) during the normal church year. The only thing close to this is the accounts of John the Baptist and Jesus’ relationship that we hear in Advent and in Lent each year. 

Given that John the Baptist came into the world to point to Jesus, it’s not surprising that we hear a lot about him… especially in the times when we are pointing our lives toward the Resurrection or the Incarnation. But why all the hub bub about the Transfiguration? What is going on here that’s so important to the Church that we read about it three times a year.

You can view the video directly at this link.

The Kingdom of God is in our midst, but only some of us care anymore.

Sermons and audio

A very large pearl in the middle of field of wheatJesus, in this week’s Gospel is trying to describe people who are both aware of God in the world, and people who are blind to God.

 He uses everyday examples of people who are able to recognize the immense value of the Kingdom of God, and when they see it in their daily life, will do something to be able to fully experience it.

That is sadly lacking today. People don’t experience the Kingdom of God, and not experiencing it, they don’t know why they should care. Telling them isn’t working. Showing them is probably a better strategy.

Our behavior can help, both in how we treat people who are seeking, people who don’t know what to seek, and importantly how we treat each other. People who are seeking can tell the difference. 

That’s both good and bad news for us.

You can view the sermon directly using this link.

 What part of you is going to be fuel for the fire?

Sermons and audio

The Wheat and the TaresThere are many ways to read a parable. It’s worth remembering that no one was literally reporting on what Jesus said as he was saying it. The Gospel accounts are at least a generation, and likely two generations, removed from the actual events. The interpretation that we read of the parable in this Gospel is one that made sense in the particular circumstances of the community in that generation. Perhaps it’s what the Apostles remembered, or more likely, it’s how they presented it. But the way that Rabbis of the time used parables meant that there wasn’t a singular interpretation. They are more like a poem that way, with multiple meanings depending on the reader’s setting.

Last week and this week, I want to suggest that one way to make sense of this parable for us today is to see the various parts of our lives, of our personalities, in the weeds and the wheat. We did the same last week in talking about the stony ground or the good soil. So for us today, what is the weedy part of your life right now?

And given all that, here’s the thing about the weed. Darnel, most likely the weed in the parable, was used as a fuel when wood was scare in Israel. As a commentary points out, the fire language may be less about hell than it is about the end purpose of the weeds. We don’t always see what God has in mind with the weedy parts of our lives. God can ultimately find a use for them too, even as we’re being purified.

You can view the sermon video directly using this link.

God’s abundance can overcome our human scarcity

Sermons and audio

Hortus Deliciarum Der SämannAs humans, we experience a world of boundaries and limitations. There can be enough for all, but it will require us to be attentive and to plan. But that’s not how it is with God, or with the abundance of God’s realm. God’s infinite riches and blessings require us to grow beyond our human experience of limited resources. 

In the parable of the sower from Matthew’s Gospel, we are presented with an image of God that sows seed with abandon and apparently without care. Much of the seed is sown in a manner that makes it seem to be wasted. But the parable isn’t concerned about the limits, the parable focuses on the seeds that are sown in places that cause growth. It appears that God is willing to waste some resources, knowing that the abundance will more than make up for what has been lost.

That’s foreign to the way we think, but it’s not unknown in our experience of the natural world. And perhaps God’s willingness to sow without care can be a clue that can unlock the joy and abundant growth that is sometimes (ofttimes?) lacking in our lives.

You can view the video directly by using this link.

Who is in, and who is kept out of the Family of God?

Sermons and audio
Two small children playing flutes in a market place.

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus points out that people are criticizing him because he is meeting with the people that others think are beyond the reach of God. And that people are ignoring John the Baptist when we urge people to walk away from their sins and return to God’s presence. One group rejects Jesus’ for his tolerance, and the other rejects or ignores John for his call to holiness.

When we stop worrying about the other people, and worry more about God, we get the point that Jesus is making. All of us need to be remade into a new creation.

We are, individually and collectively, to come into the presence of God’s Love. That’s what Jesus is calling us to do in the final verses of this morning’s gospel. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” The burden he speaks of is his commandment that we love one another. We can never find the missing hole in our heart until we do this. Those who have ears will hear this. Those who have not grown them yet, can not.

God’s Kingdom will eventually include most of us; only the ones who cannot be near the people they hate will have to stand outside the circle.

You can use this link to go directly to the video.


How to Mastodon (for Episcopalians especially)


4b8c4bbeAre you wondering how to get started with the newish social media platform that is usually called “Mastodon”? Well, I’ve written a started guide that you might find helpful. It’s targeted to people who are already familiar with using other social media services, and who might be the sort of people who follow this blog.

Social Media and Mastodon

People use social media for different reasons. That’s important to keep in mind. Some people are looking to keep up with the circle of friends and acquaintances that they know in real life. Some people are looking to find other people that share interests or the same challenges – people that they may not find easily in real life. Some people are looking for breaking news and new ideas. (That’s my particular interest.) Most of us are some combination of all three. Twitter has been particularly valuable in the latter case – and that’s what has made it useful for news organizations, celebrities, community groups and politicians.

Over the past weekend Twitter made two significant changes. One was to limit the number of tweets/day that were visible. There’s a tiered structure, ostensibly to deal with abuse, that limits new users to one amount (about 500 as I write this today), more to established accounts and 10x more to paid up subscribers. The other change was to require that people who wished to view a tweet had to be logged into an account – and that meant that tweets can’t be shared nearly as easily to people without an account.

These two changes mean that Twitter’s utility as a place to broadly share information (particularly in fast developing situations) is impaired. Imagine a hurricane or severe weather event. Government and safety organizations could post something on twitter and it would be available to everyone and easy to access from a mobile device. With these changes, that won’t work nearly as effectively. It was the ability to easily share a short message (that didn’t require a lot of bandwidth or an account to read) that was key to Twitter’s public utility

So. People have been migrating off Twitter to other services. Some are going back to Facebook and Instagram. But Facebook and Instagram have an algorithm that shows posts in a way designed to attract a users attention, not in a way that makes sense in a moment of breaking news. There are alternatives like BlueSky (still in early development and hard to get an account – and not publicly viewable) and Post (really designed for solving the question of how to pay the creators who are sharing the news). But the most frequently mentioned, and at this point, the largest alternative, is Mastodon, part of the emerging Fediverse of social media that shares posts and accounts across platforms. (This is a whole philosophical issue in itself. I think it’s brilliant, and the future, but you just need to know that sharing across different servers is the basic foundation of Mastodon.)

People describe Mastodon as working in a way similar to how email does. Your email may hosted by Office365 or Gmail or Fastmail or iCloud or your cable company or… but you can send and receive email from mostly any other server. You need an account and a server address to share your message. Something like “Nicholas” AT (@) “” for example. In the Fediverse, to distinguish this new kind of account from an email account, you use another @ symbol before the account name as well as an @ before the server name. So a Mastodon account might be And because the servers used for social media like Mastodon are new and .com domain addresses are expensive, people are tending to use other domains like .social or .co

Signing up for Mastodon

To use Mastodon, it’s not a simple of matter of going to the Mastodon server. Mastodon is a platform and/or service. It’s not a company. You need to pick a server and create an account. There are lots of them out there – and it’s easy to move your account and information from one server to another if you don’t like the choice you made. (Just as is the case with email – though actually it’s easier to move with Mastodon than it is with email.)

I have two accounts that I use. I mostly talk about faith and occasionally science and/or public affairs at I tend to follow and boost technology topics at (Twit stands for This Week in Tech)

Which server should you choose? That’s up to you. There are a number of them that are well run. You can find one at But if you’re interested in a server that has other people of faith, particularly Episcopalians, let me suggest you look at If hanging out with other Episcopalians isn’t your cup of tea, but you’d like to be with other religious folks, many of whom are clergy, check out None of these servers are run by a corporation. They’re hobbyists and people of faith and most of the costs are paid out of the server administrators own pocket (or from donations by other users). If you sign up, please think about kicking to help out with the costs.

How to Use Your Account

I’ve helped a number of friends and family get started with Mastodon. They get their account set up, and then they start to wonder where everyone is. Mastodon isn’t like Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. There’s no computer program that will automatically show you stuff to read. It’s like email that way. Once you have an email account, you need to start using it and sharing your address before it becomes useful. Otherwise, you won’t find anything in your inbox.

Following people though is complicated if you’re using the website you went to when you created your account. It’ll work, but search is complicated right now and following is a multi-step process. Let me tell you a pro-tip. Get an app. It will be much more like the other social media services that way. If you’ve signed up on, start off by following me. (I’ll explain why you should do that in the next section.)

Which apps? There are a bunch. Many of them are free or inexpensive. Get an app. It’s makes everything much better. I’ll suggest three in particular, all of which work on Apple devices/platforms. There are similar ones for Windows and Android, but I don’t use those platforms so I don’t feel comfortable making recommendations. If you have suggestions for those platforms, please add them in the comments!

1. IceCubes – free, but a tip is appreciated

2. Mona – inexpensive, one time cost

3. Ivory – yearly subscription. (I have all of them, but this is one I like to use.)

(4. The official Mastodon app. It’s okay, but at this point, it’s doesn’t have nearly the functionality that the other apps have.)

Depending on the size of your server ( is a small server, is about 3x as big, is about 30x larger than that and, the biggest of the servers, is about 100x larger than Twit.) you will be able to usefully access a personal feed, a local feed and a federated feed. The personal feed is everyone you have personally followed. (That should be pretty sparse at this point.) The local feed is the posts of everyone else on the server that you’ve signed on to. The federated feed is all the posts of people who other people on your local feed subscribed to. Think of it as “your apartment”, your apartment building and the friends of everyone in your apartment building. If you’ve signed up on a server with similar interests as yours, your neighbors will be interesting and the people they follow will likely be interesting.

All of this is built into how Mastodon works. If you see someone posting on the federated or local feed and you want to make sure that you don’t miss anything they post, follow them and they’ll show up in your personal feed as well. You’re starting to curate a list of people to follow.

Most people say that one you get to 100 or so people that you’re following, the network effect kicks in on Mastodon and it becomes useful and interesting. It’s a lower threshold than is suggested on other services, but it does seem to work this way. Go ahead. Follow a bunch of people. You can always unfollow them if you aren’t interested in the sorts of things that they post.

Finding People or Publishers to Follow (and the magic of hashtags)

Once you find a few people to follow, if they’re on your same server (or “Instance” technically), you can view their account and see who they’re following. Follow some of those people. Just get yourself to around 100 or so. Off you go. If you’ve joined and you’re following me, take a look at who I’m following.

If nothing else, let me suggest you follow @lisamelton She is very generous in “boosting” or re-sharing other people’s posts. Paste that address into the search function on the app you’re using and you’ll find her account and you can follow her. If you find someone she’s boosted that looks interesting to you, follow them directly.

NB: If you use Google or Bing to search for someone’s Mastodon account, you’ll likely be taken to their account webpage on their instance. You’ll see a follow button. That button won’t work unless you have an account on the same server. You DON’T need to sign up for an account on that server. Just copy the URL of their account and paste it into the search box on your account webpage. Then you can follow them. Or just paste their “name” into the search box of your app. Same difference. (This trips a bunch of people up. You’re now on notice! Grin.)

The sort-of-equivalent of the social media service algorithm that shows you posts from people you don’t follow is the “Hashtag” on Mastodon. It’s exactly what you’d expect. Use the search function on your app and type in a topic you think you’d be interested in seeing preceded by a pound symbol. Some examples are: , , , , , , etc. When you search on these, you can “save” your search by following the hashtag. Different apps handle that differently, but essentially, you can create you on topic algorithm. (The same functionality exists on other social media platforms, but it’s more essential to using Mastodon than it is on the other platforms.) If you had a favorite hashtag you followed on another service, check it out on Mastodon.

Post and Boost and welcome others

Mastodon is a not for profit collective of people with many and diverse interests. The big challenge to getting started is finding people to follow. (It’s called the discovery challenge. People are working on making it easier. It was just as hard on Twitter way back in the beginning for what’s worth.) You can help out other people by boosting posts and liking things. Liking just lets someone know you appreciated a post. Boosting shares the post you boost with everyone following you. Doing this once you’re established helps other newcomers find interesting accounts to follow and then they can help others and so on.

A note about abuse on Mastodon. It happens here too. People are sinful and something about social media and the microphone it provides makes people say things to others that they likely wouldn’t same to them in person. If someone insults you or hurts you, you can report them to your server admin. On a well run server like or, the admins will take it from there. If you just don’t want to see someone’s posts, but don’t want to report them for abusive behavior, block their account – or even block their whole server (instance) which will mean you won’t see anyone else on that server’s posts anymore. Most servers block entire servers from the beginning. Some servers are filled with people who delight in hate-speech, or who seem to enjoy hurting other people. When a number of admins on servers block a server, it’s said that the server in question has been de-federated.

Moderation of any social network at scale is essentially impossible. The big commercial services hire people to do it and use machine learning tools to try to automate it. On Mastodon it’s more locally managed and everyone sort of becomes a moderator for themselves (and for others on their instance). It’s an experiment. We’ll have to wait to see if it works. So far it has for me.

Enjoy, if this is your vibe

This is not an exhaustive introduction to Mastodon, and it’s specifically targeted at the people I think read this blog. You don’t need to get a Mastodon account – or use social media at all. But if you do, and want to try out Mastodon, this should at least get you started.

I’ll add to this post as I see mistakes, or as people make suggestions in the comments. I hope it’s helpful for people looking to get started.

Relationships, not resumes, are what matter to God

Sermons and audio

A child's hand being given a tin cup of waterThis week’s Gospel presents a different way of thinking about who is worthy of God’s Realm. Jesus tells us that it’s what we do to others that matters, not what we’ve attained for ourselves. He even points out that we can get the same reward as someone who is a prophet or has lived a righteous life simply by being in relationship to them. The same reward! That’s not how the society we actually live in functions.

We, more often than not, imagine that a persons worth has to do with what they have accomplished in their lives, in the honors and accolades that they collected. The idea that someone should get the same reward from God simply through a chance meeting with someone who has striven their whole life to live according to God’s will is, well frankly, scandalous to us. I don’t know that it would bother the righteous particularly… I think they’d be delighted to have been the cause of someone else’s good fortune. They aren’t having their reward taken away – God’s economy is not based on a zero-sum game.

And we can see this at work particularly in baptism and in the baptismal covenant we make with each other. All it requires, to live in the community of the Church is a profession of faith in Jesus and rejection of those who rebel against him. Do that and you’re in – along with the rest of us. And there’s no second baptism to show that you’re now a first class Christian. It’s just the one, and it’s just all of us together in one big unruly, occasionally noisy and disorderly family.

The direct link to this week’s sermon is found here.

Sometimes we have to accept that God has a plan for the people we reject (and for us too).

Sermons and audio

A woman with an infant in the desert sitting under a bush in the sun.There is something universal in the human desire to draw boundaries and barriers; to make sure that only the proper sorts of people or things are included in a community. The Bible is full of examples of God seemingly choosing between one group of people and rejecting another; loving one group and hating another. But the truth of the matter is more complicated, and for just about every biblical example of God rejecting one group over another group, we can find a story of God loving both and having a plan for each.

It is said that at the same moment that the Israelites rejoiced at the deaths of Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, Moses could hear the sound of the angels weeping for the dead because they too were God’s children. God sent the children of Israel into exile and then used the power of their oppressors to return them to their homes many generations later. When Jesus’ disciples went into the world to proclaim the Gospel, they were sent to everyone, and the Holy Spirit fell on those who were recognized as Children of Abraham and those who were not.

Sometimes we need to wait a long time to fully understand God’s will and action in a particular moment. And sometimes there are two conflicting ways of understanding what God is doing – and both view are correct.

We hear that today in the story of Hagar and Ishmael, and of Sarah and Isaac.

The direct link to download the sermon is found here.

The Way out is made by learning to love

Sermons and audio

Yellow Day Lilly blossomsThis week’s Gospel reading tells of Jesus sending out his disciples “like sheep” into a world filled with “wolves.” He tells them to proclaim tidings of peace to the communities they visit, to heal the sick and to cast out the demons that oppress the people they meet. And then he warns them that doing these things, these kind things, will cause some people to attack them and to beat them. He goes on to say that Christians should expect to even be betrayed by the people that are the closest to them.

What is it about being kind to your neighbor that seems to evoke such deep anger and hatred? Why is that a proclamation of peace to the World would, by itself, cause enmity and division? 

In this week’s sermon I explore this question and make some suggestions about what the answer might be – and what it might mean for us.

(The direct link to the sermon video is found here.)