The Internet is morphing again…


There’s an old description of the Internet as a network that, because of its inherent distributed nature, has the ability to route around damage in a way that maintains connection.

In the last decade the corporate voices on the network have managed to push most of the interesting and thoughtful voices to the fringe and replaced them with outrage and click-bait that plays to an advertising based economic model. But perhaps the protean nature of the Internet is allowing the network to shift again – going back to its early mode of creating smaller more manageable community rather than seeking viral-ity as the best possible outcome of sharing.

At least that’s the point of this article. It’s worth thinking about as we prepare to enter a new year, and perhaps a particularly important mid-term election year.

The old promise of the internet — niche communities, human connection, people exchanging ideas, maybe even paying each other for the work they’d made — never really lost its appeal, but this year it came back with a miniature vengeance.

We can see this longing for community — and specifically, the sort of small, weird communities that populated and defined the early internet — everywhere. There’s Amino, the Tumblr-inspired app that lets fandoms build online spaces that are essentially club houses, then coordinate the creation of elaborate works of fan art, fiction, cosplay, and fandom lore. At the request of its largely teenage audience, the platform released its first cosplay yearbook this December, and doled out honors to the best writing, photography, and tutorials around cosplay. The thousands of fandom-specific rooms are lively and strange, each with their own moderators and byzantine rules.

Perhaps the network is returning to its past – routing around the damage that has been done and allowing us to create the small communities of connected people that charmed us into using it in the first place.


I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Reconciliation / Religion

This poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is on my heart this Christmas season. He published it during the last year of the American Civil War:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet
The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along
The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound
The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn
The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

From here

The last stanza reminds me of the words of the Prophet Habakkuk. May the words of the prophet peal loud and deep and true again in our day.

Merry Christmas!


Look for God in the quiet still moments of Christmas

nativitySome years I find myself in the Christmas spirit early in December, some years it doesn’t seem to arrive for me until Christmas Eve is nearly upon us. This year it’s been the latter case. I know Christmas is nearly here and for the most part I’m ready, but I’m still in an Advent frame of mind.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been spending our last few months following the big stories dominating the news. Stories about national health care, tax code, diplomacy, politics and so much more. It can be overwhelming. And it all feels and sounds so important. I wake up in the morning wondering what important development has taken place overnight. I find myself looking outward and not inward, looking at the big picture and not paying attention to the little things.

But if you spend time with the scriptures, you might notice that they don’t seem to focus on such big stories at all – other than how they affect the people that we meet in the Bible. The focus instead is on the people and how they live with each other, how they treat one another. What the Bible seems to think is important is how two brothers get along, how willing people are to care for their neighbors, how we care for the stranger in our midst. The big stories, the accounts of the great kings and their empires mostly serve as a backdrop for the more intimate family stories that make up most of the Bible.

This all comes to the forefront when we get to the second chapter of Luke. We start with a passing mention of the greatest empire the west has ever known and quickly we find ourselves hearing not about palaces and fabulous wealth but about two people expecting a child and a small band of shepherds watching their flock in a rocky field outside a village in Palestine.

St. Francis of Assisi once noted that on Christmas night, that the Universe itself was found in the small stable where the Christ Child was born and swaddled. C.S. Lewis used that observation as inspiration for placing his wondrous world of Narnia in a wardrobe found in an empty room in an old house. God seems to see things differently than we might expect. Our God who upholds the cosmos and knows all of time and space in an instant, enters our small world in the intimate moments of our daily lives.

And just as God was known in the birth of the Christ Child and for a moment contained in a small space as the child was worshiped and loved by his parents, so too we probably have our most authentic experience of the Holy when we gather together as friends and family on Christmas Day. The giving of gifts, the sharing of a meal and warmth of just being together is, in a very homey and profound way, the truest and most intimate communion we have with the God who is Love itself.

My prayer for all of you this year is that in the coming twelve days of the Christmas Season you too will have the opportunity to experience God in the love you share with the people closest to you. May God grant you the quiet moments that will let you recognize the real presence of God – who is always with us but whom we miss because we’re often looking at the wrong things.

This year let us all look at what God thinks is important, the love we share with one another.

Yikes: One Bitcoin Transaction Now Uses as Much Energy as Your House in a Week

Climate Change / Current Affairs

“Bitcoin’s surge in price has sent its electricity consumption soaring.”

Source: One Bitcoin Transaction Now Uses as Much Energy as Your House in a Week

Well, this isn’t good news for the people speculating in the crypto-currency markets. This isn’t a problem with mining new coins in a block-chain system (which is even worse). This is per transaction. And this is happening against a background of exponential growth – which means the energy cost will rapidly increase.

Which means people trying to use the money they are mining or investing in are going to hit a computational/energy wall pretty soon, given that the growth in energy creation isn’t nearly as steep as the growth of the energy cost per transaction.

I wonder how long it will be until this collapses?

The Theological context of Church Communications – a video of a presentation

Religion / Web/Tech

Here in Rhode Island, those of us working in communications ministry are trying to gather quarterly to talk about our work, share tips and see how we can do things better.

At the first of our gatherings I was given the task of presenting on “the theology of church communications”. This is the video of that presentation.

It’s not… horrible.

Actually, it’s rather entertaining to watch me fling the microphone cable around as I flail about with my arms talking about something about which I’m deeply passionate. So it’s worth watching for that alone. (And I need a haircut, but that’s besides the point. I’m more of a radio guy.)

Learning to survive


On Sunday afternoon the House of Bishops and our spouses were invited to a Potlatch in Nenana, a town about an hour outside of Fairbanks. The Potlatch was held to honor our visit by the people of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Nenana and the native people of the forty plus villages found in the interior of Alaska. Most of the folks in the lodge were Episcopalian, most were native people, but because everyone in the area was invited, it was a mixture of folk that welcomed us.

I sat across from a man in his mid-eighties who spent the afternoon gently teasing me and the bishops sitting with me while helping us navigate the customs and the unfamiliar food. He showed me how to get the marrow out of the moose bones. He showed me where the seasoning packets were for the Moose-head soup. He warned me not to eat the fish ice-cream. He had some tall tales to share too – and kept laughing at us when we fell for them.

In my conversations with folks afterwards, there lots of people like him in the room, welcoming us into their community, telling us stories and enjoying the warmth and the laughter of the gathered community. It was a moving experience of community – a community that was defining itself by acts of generosity and welcoming. It was a day filled with extravagant gestures. My guide that day told me that the hosts had been up since 3 AM that day cooking the soup and preparing the meat. He said the man who shot the moose we shared had taken a small fat one. Which was good because apparently that sort of moose tasted better than a big one.

What struck me was what he said next. The man who took the moose could have fed his entire family all through the winter with that food. But instead of giving it to his family, he gave it to the visiting strangers and anyone else in the community who came inside.

Which sort of puts most of our normal acts of hospitality in the lower 48 into perspective. We are generous, but we’re not generous that way. And I’ve grumbled occasionally when I think folks who are just coming for the meal are taking advantage of a community’s hospitality without giving anything in return. (I’m not proud of that, but I recognize that in myself and after this experience in Alaska, I see it in bold distinction with the lavish welcome we received from the native people. Perhaps I can learn to be more like them more often in my own life.)

At the end of the meal and its many courses, after the chiefs who were present who wished to speak had done so, and after the Presiding Bishop had spoken on our behalf, we were presented with necklaces from the village. The young people had made them for us as sign of their desire to honor us and to thank us for visiting.

(I had dinner with a local High School teacher the next evening in Fairbanks. I asked him if the giving of the necklaces by that community was significant. He nodded his head in a silent yes.)

I leave Alaska with memories and that necklace. I pray that it will be a reminder to me of a different way of being community – one that truly and extravagantly welcomes the visitor and the pilgrim. One that literally competes with its neighbors to honor the strangers in their midst. I can understand why a people who live a hard subsistence life in a forbidding place developed that sort of custom. Their ability to survive the winters depended on their being able to rely on each other.

But I’m reminded too of how important it is for us who have more resources and live in less challenging places to learn this lesson. Because there often come moments when we need to depend on each other – and more often than not these days, we don’t even know our neighbor’s names much less shared meals with them in the town halls…

Maybe this is a different way of being a “prep-per” – the sort of person who prepares for natural disasters or emergencies by laying in stocks and weapons. The Alaskan way does that – but also lays in acts of friendship and community so as to build a community that can withstand the sorts of disaster events we all fear.

Pay attention – your life depends upon it.

Climate Change / Religion

Yesterday bishops and spouses from around North and Central America went to visit with the native congregations of the Diocese of Alaska. As part of our day, we joined with the people who live in this beautiful and majestic place to bless the land and thank God for the gift of it.

(Arriving at St. Matthew’s in Fairbanks)

I was part of a group that stayed in Fairbanks. We walked along the Chena River, saw the beaver dams beside water treatment plants and worshiped and ate at St. Matthews – one of the oldest congregations in this region. We heard the stories of the elders about how the community worked together to survive the winters and celebrate the everyday events of their lives: baptisms, weddings, confirmations and more. The recently retired, long serving rector addressed us all. “Fifty odd bishops” he named us. (He has no idea how accurate that is.)

(Beaver Dam)

He spoke to us on a pedestrian bridge as we pronounced the blessing along with others spread out across the state. He told us of how people in Alaska have learned to pay attention to what was happening around them. They learned to that or they died. They learned to speak of the wind and its direction, because if the direction changed, and you were out on the ice, you’d be carried out to sea – or in danger of being crushed as the ice piled up on the land. He told of how important it was to pay attention to the temperature – and whether it was rising or falling. He talked of noticing the ice as you walked – if it was suddenly thinner than thought, you would fall through and die.

Paying attention in the wilderness is life or death business.

It strikes me that paying attention to Creation in a era of climate change is life or death business whether you are in the wilderness or not. And paying attention to the spirit of the age is life or death business as we increasingly encounter voices that gain more power be creating division – rather than dying to self to draw all people toward the One on Whom We All Depend.

Jesus told us about this need. He told his disciples to be awake in the night and to watch for the coming of God – and the breaking of the dawn light. He too told us that paying attention to the signs of the time was so important that our lives depend upon it. (Mark 13:32ff or Luke 12:40ff or Luke 21:36 or…)

Maybe we should listen the wisdom of the elders of Church as they point us to the Wisdom of Only Begotten One. Our lives depend on it – in this wilderness time.

The stories of the elders

Religion / World Mission

Yesterday, in our meeting of the House of Bishops here in Alaska, we were treated to two conversations with elders of the Athabaskan people. One, a 96 year old woman who told us of her life in the seasonal Fish Camps and sang to us songs she had composed to mark important moments in her life. The other was an Episcopal priest and tribal chief who had served a community for years and now in his mid-eighties was an institution in the diocesan and the region.

As we listened the elders tell their stories, we were also taught by younger leaders from the villages how to listen to what they were saying. We were reminded that sometimes the elder will pause before answering a question – often because the elder’s first language is not English and they need to work out an answer and then translate it for us. And we were told to recognize that the elders often answered a question with a story – a story that might not seem to be related to the question that was asked. When that happened, it was important to listen carefully because the story answered the question in a way, and sometime carried with it a gentle critique of the question itself.

I was struck by the deep respect and reverence that native people we met had for the elders in their community. They had learned to depend on the elders to keep the community’s history and traditions, to pass along it common wisdom, and most importantly to allow it to survive in the harsh climate. The elder’s stories and songs teach the people about how to care for the environment that they depend on for their subsistence lifestyle. (A lifestyle that, as the older elder said to us was “hard” but not a “hardship”.) The stories taught the people how to manage the harvest, how to care for the herd, and how to respect the rivers. It is the accumulated wisdom of the nearly ten thousand years of experience. The stories are truly the life and death wisdom and knowledge of the Athabaskan people.

I’m reminded of the Church’s stories too. We have thousands and thousands of years of history and wisdom. We have stories that are told in response to questions asked that don’t seem, at first blush, to answer the question either but upon reflection contain incredible richness of thought. We have stories that contain the experience of God’s people with the God they worship and follow – and these stories are just as critical for our survival as are the stories of the elders to the native people of the Arctic.

And I’m quite taken by the reverence the community has for the elders – and the way the elders live selflessly for the community. We prioritize things differently in most Episcopal congregations these days. I’m not sure we’re doing that right.

The blessing of kindred people


Yesterday morning, as we began our House of Bishops meeting, we were greeted by two representatives of the native communities on whose ancestral lands we have gathered. The speakers began by telling us that this was the common custom of the native people’s of Alaska – that when people came for a visit, it was proper to be greeted by the people who lived in the place.

One of the speakers was a the leader of consortium of tribes and native communities in the Fairbanks area. He talked at length of the challenges facing his people, how they were trying to balance the resources of the modern world with the wisdom and traditions of their people. He talked specifically about an issue that had arise regarding the foster care for a village child. The state system wanted to take the child out of the village and place the child with state certified foster parents. But the community insisted that the child stay with the village and in their extended family so that the child would know their customs and would learn how to live according to the traditions. The chief who spoke to us said that they had been successful, that the child was now a young man who was doing well and starting a family – and because he had stayed in the community and learned the traditional ways – had not fallen into habits of drinking, etc that are such a challenge for the native communities right now.

It’s a reminder that there is a great deal of wisdom already in communities with which the missionaries engage – and we learn as much as we share when we go to talk with them about the work that God is doing in the person of Jesus.

The second speaker was also a former chief – but it was clear that he was a minister and spoke as a theologian. He spoke in particular about the ways that the native people had encountered God in their lives and had understood God before the missionaries came. He mentioned in particular that while there were stories about multiple spirits, the Great Spirit, who was named “The One on Whom We All Depend”, was singular – and a natural revelation of God. He spoke about the joy with which his people had received the news of the particular expression of God in the person of Jesus, and the particular revelation of the Truth that they had encountered in the Gospel.

He then went on to point out something that I found quite striking – he drew our attention to the encounter of Abram and Melchizedek described in Genesis – the encounter where the two men greet each other as brothers and Abram is blessed by Melchizedek. He pointed out that Melchizedek, a native to the land in which Abram had journeyed had blessed the father of the Chosen people of God – and called him brother.

It’s quite an arresting thought – that rather than Abram supplanting the native people, Abram is blessed by them, and welcomed to live beside them.

(And according to the speaker, it’s the first instance of such an encounter in the biblical narrative.)

It’s something that I’ve been thinking about and upon which I’ll be reflecting for the week that we’re here in Alaska.

Two pictures from later in the day. We were visiting the Alaskan Heritage and Cultural Center. The first is the Antler Arch that welcomes you to the bank of the river in the center of the city.

The second is Bishop Gordon’s plane – sometimes called the “Blue Box” after the UTO fundraisers that allowed the church in Alaska to purchase it for his use. It’s the plane he used to visit the communities he served across the state. (No need for a plane in Rhode Island – but I’m told some of the earlier bishops did have boats that they used instead.)