Digital conversion: Church of England rolls out cashless donations

Current Affairs

Well, it’s been obvious that this has been coming. We have congregations here in the Diocese of Rhode Island that already offer this option. It’s been warmly received here particularly at festival events with many visitors attending like a Solemn Evensong or Christmas Eve.

Churchgoers will no longer have to fumble in their pockets and purses for loose change or notes as the Church of England introduces contactless payment terminals in more than 16,000 churches, cathedrals and other religious sites.

Contactless payments have been on trial in 40 Anglican churches since last summer, and from Tuesday they will be extended to all dioceses with the aim of making donations easier and faster. Congregations will also be able to donate via text message.

The C of E takes about £580m a year in donations, although most are from standing orders and fees rather than cash given in church. It began looking at cashless payment due to the declining numbers of people carrying cash.

via Digital conversion: Church of England rolls out cashless donations | World news | The Guardian

I’m impressed that the national church stewardship office in England took ownership and set this up for all the churches. I don’t know if that’s something we can do in the Episcopal Church, but I’ll be asking around to see if it’s something we can consider soon.

Join Bishop Knisely and other Episcopalians at the Providence March For Our Lives Rally

Current Affairs

Clergy and young people from the Diocese of Rhode Island are joining others from New England in traveling to the event this weekend in Washington DC.

Others, including Bishop Knisely, will be attending the simultaneous event held in Providence on Saturday (March 24th) at 1:00 PM.

logoIf you are interested in walking to the event together, a number of Episcopalians from across the state, both lay and clergy, are planning on meeting at the Cathedral Church of St. John on North Main Street at 12:30 PM.

If you are attending the Providence event, you can register here:

If you are attending, you are invited wear orange or red, and some clergy will be wearing their cassocks.

Stephen Hawking – a life that pointed to something beyond.

Current Affairs / Science

I woke up to the news this morning that Prof. Hawking had died. It’s hard to express the deep admiration people had for his work and the way he surmounted challenges in a way that few others have managed.

There will be plenty of articles written about his scientific legacy. But I found this quote at the end of an article by Robert Barr to be the most evocative:

Lucy Hawking said her father had an exasperating “inability to accept that there is anything he cannot do.”

“I accept that there are some things I can’t do,” he told The Associated Press in 1997. “But they are mostly things I don’t particularly want to do anyway.”

Then, grinning widely, he added, “I seem to manage to do anything that I really want.”

via Stephen Hawking, best-known physicist of his time, has died

I think the most impressive quality he possessed was the way he was willing to revisit his thinking and change his mind when the facts or the logic demanded he do so.

People need heroes. We are a better people because he worked and lived a hero’s life.

Together we must act to end this senseless carnage of our children in their school classrooms.

Current Affairs

“Forgive us, Lord, when our leaders fail to take action to protect the most vulnerable from the dangers of gun violence,” Hollerith says. “Forgive us, Lord, for the times when we lack the courage and political will to work together. Open our eyes and our hearts to work across our divisions to end the plague of gun violence.”

via Church leaders express grief, call for action after Florida high school mass shooting – Episcopal News Service

Please follow the link above to learn more about how the 70-plus strong coalition of Episcopal bishops across the country is joining to respond to this latest act of violence against young people.

At some point, we will have to agree that this has to end. Until that day comes, join me in praying that God will change the hearts of our elected leadership.

The high cost of the Opioid Crisis

Current Affairs

According to a recently released study from the consulting group Altarum, the Opioid Crisis’ cost to the US economy is already north of a trillion dollars and ballooning.



In initial conversations with the Rhode Island Department of Health, there’s an important role for faith-based organizations to play in a coordinated response.

At the simplest level, our job is to help destigmatize the struggle with addiction so that people will get help rather than try to beat this on their own. Those who try to do this on their own are not generally successful.

h/t to Kendall Harmon

Turning moral decisions into computer code

Current Affairs / SOSc

Nicholas Evans, a philosophy professor in Massachusetts, is part of a group tackling the classic moral dilemma called the “Trolley Problem” as part of the development of autonomous cars.

Evans is not currently taking a stand on which moral theory is right. Instead, he hopes the results from his algorithms will allow others to make an informed decision, whether that’s by car consumers or manufacturers. Evans isn’t currently collaborating with any of the companies working to create autonomous cars, but hopes to do so once he has results.

Perhaps Evans’s algorithms will show that one moral theory will lead to more lives saved than another, or perhaps the results will be more complicated. “It’s not just about how many people die but which people die or whose lives are saved,” says Evans. It’s possible that two scenarios will save equal numbers of lives, but not of the same people.

“The difference between theory A and theory B is that the people who die in the first theory are mostly over 50 and the people who die in the second theory are mostly under 30,” Evans said. “Then we have to have a discussion as a society about not just how much risk we’re willing to take but who we’re willing to expose to risk.”

via Self-driving cars’ Trolley Problem: Philosophers are building ethical algorithms to solve the problem — Quartz

I’ve argued in other places that Physics, like Theology, is applied Philosophy. (In the same way that you can claim Engineering is related to Physics.) I find it fascinating to see how this is being explicitly managed in this case.

The article goes on to suggest that this particular problem might serve as a testbed for a sort of experimental moral theology someday.

Like I said: fascinating.

If it can go wrong, it will. Facebook, privacy and Murphy’s Law.

Religion / Web/Tech

Human experience is that technology is born filled with promise and usually quickly subverted to less than honorable ends. Wired reports on the way big tech, specifically Facebook, recognized what it had done, and what it thinks it can do to respond:

This is the story of those two years [before and after the 2016 election], as they played out inside and around the company. WIRED spoke with 51 current or former Facebook employees for this article, many of whom did not want their names used, for reasons anyone familiar with the story of Fearnow and Villarreal would surely understand. (One current employee asked that a WIRED reporter turn off his phone so the company would have a harder time tracking whether it had been near the phones of anyone from Facebook.)

The stories varied, but most people told the same basic tale: of a company, and a CEO, whose techno-optimism has been crushed as they’ve learned the myriad ways their platform can be used for ill. Of an election that shocked Facebook, even as its fallout put the company under siege. Of a series of external threats, defensive internal calculations, and false starts that delayed Facebook’s reckoning with its impact on global affairs and its users’ minds. And—in the tale’s final chapters—of the company’s earnest attempt to redeem itself.

via Inside Facebook’s Hellish Two Years—and Mark Zuckerberg’s Struggle to Fix it All | WIRED

Original Sin. It doesn’t go out of date apparently.

Ash Wednesday: Not a time to be cute – Andrew Gerns

Current Affairs / Religion

Valentines Day or Ash Wednesday? Is it reasonable to try to honor both?

One must tread carefully on Ash Wednesday, because what is called up on this day most centered on penance is at once deeply personal and at the very core to our being and identity. We are acknowledging that we can’t go it alone. We recognize our limitedness. Together we will stare into our mortality. We will face the fact that we are broken. We will recall, I hope, with sadness and chagrin how we mistreat each other and the evil that we do. Ash Wednesday is all about sin.

There. I said it. Ash Wednesday is all about sin.

There is nothing cute about it. But it is very necessary.

And if it feels hard or scary to enter into, it’s because the process we are invited into is both. What we are dealing with is both immediate and eternal, a grace that we don’t earn but always learning to live.

via Fun’n’games in the Kingdom of God: This is no time to be cute.

I’ve been a huge fan of Canon Gern’s writing for years. By fan, I mean something along the lines of quiet jealousy at how well he writes…

And here he’s making an important point about how we’ll deal with the collision of an essentially secular feast day and a profound and sacred fast day. For those of us in the church world, this is not an uncommon experience – but it’s also not something I think we manage to negotiate terribly well. Look at the conflict over Advent vs Christmas to see a prime example.

Andrew makes the point here that we can proactively choose to transfer a feast and this year that’s probably the best choice. But don’t miss his larger point. There are times when we have to be careful to not let our unwillingness to name our communal discomfort with the sacred vs secular conflict cause us to diminish the value of things of infinite importance.

Could Self-Driving Trucks lead to more jobs? – The Atlantic

Futurism / Science

“We’ve been disappointed over the last year to see a lot of stories about how self-driving trucks are going to be this huge problem for truck drivers,” says Alden Woodrow, the product lead for self-driving trucks at Uber. “That’s not at all what we think the outcome is going to be.”

For one, Uber does not believe that self-driving trucks will be doing “dock to dock” runs for a very long time. They see a future in which self-driving trucks drive highway miles between what they call transfer hubs, where human drivers will take over for the last miles through complex urban and industrial terrain.

via Could Self-Driving Trucks Be Good for Truckers? – The Atlantic

The essay by Madrigal linked above goes on to point out that another consequence would be that drivers would stay closer to home rather than do long hauls. I guess the model would be that truckers would become more like harbor pilots. (I knew some harbor pilots when I lived in Delaware. Those were good jobs that were highly sought after in the region.)

I had a conversation with some colleagues earlier this week about possible futures for human/machine work. An interesting observation was that for the foreseeable future, the most likely scenario is going to be human assisted artificial intelligence rather than autonomous artificial intelligence workers.

There’s a growing trend in the chess world that the best players aren’t human and aren’t computers. The best players these days in absolute terms are humans that are working with computer assistants. Apparently, it’s a whole new competitive space emerging. Perhaps it’s a peek into what might be coming more broadly.