An App from Hell

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

This past weekend I was looking at church job listings with a group of friends. We were evaluating the postings theologically, asking what these job descriptions suggested about each congregation.

Some were great. Others were not so great. Some emphasized discernment. Others emphasized excitement and opportunity. Some displayed theological reflection on the vocation. Others displayed marketplace language.

I looked at my friends and said, “Hey everyone, I have an idea for an app. We can create an app that allows people to swipe right for church job listings they like, and swipe left for church job listings they hate.”

On the other side of things, then, we’d need candidate profiles that search committees could peruse, with the same mechanism.

Maybe would be bad for everyone.

Maybe this idea was born in hell.

Writing Witty With Russell Baker

In this interview with Adrienne LaFrance of the Atlantic, the now deceased New York Times columnist and host of Masterpiece Theater Russell Baker offered a few nuggets on work, writing, politics, comedy, and journalism. I extracted a few of my favorite portions.

LaFrance: Did it never feel like a labor before?

Baker: I’m writing because I love to write, of course. It was just a pleasure to write. I’d write things for fun and throw it away. Of course, once you start making money it becomes work and it ceases to be fun, but your writing gets better.

LaFrance: That’s true, isn’t it?

Baker: I’ve always found that when writing is fun, it’s not very good.

On writing as labor:

Baker: If you haven’t sweated over it, it’s probably not worth it. So it’s always been work. But it’s the kind of work you enjoy having done. The doing of it is hard work. People don’t usually realize what it takes out of you. They just see you sitting there, staring at the wall, and they don’t know that you’re looking for the perfect word to describe a shade of light. I did enjoy writing. Also, I’ve probably said everything I’ve wanted to say.

On changes in the political scene in Washington:

LaFrance: When I covered national politics, the longest-serving senators would always tell me about how Congress used to be so civilized and bipartisan. You were around in those days. That’s not really true, is it? Because if you look back at the history, there’s always been fighting.

Baker: Well there has, but not like now. It’s another world. At one point I covered the Senate for several years. I knew everyone. The Senate’s easy to cover. There are only 100 guys. It’s just the right size.
But the Senate now has become something quite different than what it was when I covered it. It was an important body when I covered it. I started covering the Senate during the Eisenhower years. It was important in any number of policy matters. To be on the Foreign Relations Committee was to be a heavyweight. I mean, [Senator J. William] Fulbright’s resistance to the Vietnam policy had real weight in the events that followed. And that was true on the financial side. The Finance Committee chairman really had influence.

Now nobody has any weight. Nobody listens. As a matter of fact, they don’t have any respect for the job anymore. Trent Lott was the majority leader for the Republicans and chucked the job to become a lobbyist. If that had happened in the days that I was covering the Senate, he would have been disgraced. A senator giving up a Senate seat to become a lobbyist! That just wasn’t done. And they all do now. The decline of the Senate. That’s a big story.

When I covered the Senate, Lyndon Johnson was the majority leader and he was working with Eisenhower. [Sam] Rayburn was the speaker of the House. They worked closely with Eisenhower to get things done. It’s inconceivable that any of those men would have taken it upon himself just to frustrate Eisenhower.

Politics is almost a nonstop activity now. There’s not much government that goes on. But with Rayburn and Eisenhower and Johnson and Kennedy —all those people—they governed. Governing is tough. Now they don’t spend much time governing. It’s mostly posturing.

On comedic writing (I censored the curse words):

LaFrance: You mentioned your column, so I want to get your view on comedic writing generally. Do you think that humor is more parts truth or more parts absurdity?

Baker: I don’t know! I don’t know what it is. You know, you laugh, it’s humorous. I am curious about the decline of wit in humor. That may be a cyclical thing. But humor’s much cruder than it was when I was working in that area, when humor required certain cleverness. Whereas now you say a nasty word and the audience will break up. It’s a nervous tic. You just say a four-letter word.

Everyone watches Jon Stewart, right? And they have the bleep thing when he really obviously says “s***” or “f***,” and he’s cute about it. It’s a cheap laugh. It’s not funny. But the audience reacts. When you’ve got to do as much work as he does, I can understand why you go for the cheap laugh.

On the pointless, inconsequential concluding question:

LaFrance: I know we’re running out of time. Is there anything I should have asked you but didn’t?

Baker: Probably! But what does it matter?


Theology Happens


I created a set of “Theology Happens” decals after a funny incident at the office. Students can earn several different certificates within the M.Div. degree plan: biblical studies and languages, spiritual formation and discipleship, music leadership in worship, etc. “Theology” is the default track. During one of our advising meals, students were told that if they do not opt to pursue a certificate, “theology happens.” Yes, yes it does. A colleague turned to me and said, “I think I’ve seen that on a bumper sticker.”

It isn’t a bumper sticker. But it is a sticker. I had some made. You can purchase one in my online store, which I set up just for this. That might be ridiculous. OK. You’re right, it is. But if you want one, it will be $5 + tax, shipped. Go to the store and place an order. I’ll have time to turn it around during the quarantine.

If you live local, I can hand it off personally from a socially acceptable distance for $3. I’ll also entertain interesting trade offers. I said entertain. Not necessarily accept.

Where’s the link to the store? Here. Thanks for asking.

Up to Their Old Tricks

I read in the local paper this week that the Russians are up to their old tricks, sowing disinformation and discord through fake accounts on social media in the lead up to the 2020 general election. Don’t be fooled.

It’s important to be discerning. Have you ever seen The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle? Things are not always as they seem, and people are not always who they make themselves out to be.

Back in 2016, in addition to the shenanigans perpetrated by their bot army on Twitter, the Russians managed a Facebook group advocating for Texas to secede. The Russians arranged for members of the secessionist group to come together for a demonstration in Houston on the same day and in the same place where an Islamic group was also holding a demonstration. Both groups were coordinated by the Russians.

Again, don’t be fooled. If something seems weird on social media, it could be real. But it might be Boris and Natasha.

Satan’s Work

You see, I believe the Internet is the work of Satan.

– Kinky Friedman, Texas Hold’em: How I Was Born in a Manger, Died in the Saddle, and Came Back as a Horny Toad, 115

Kinky published these words, in this book, in 2005. He added, “If you require information on a certain subject, go to one of those places, I forget what you call them, with a lot of books inside and two lions out front. Pick a title, sit on the steps, and read between the lions.”

Sound backwards? Kinky knew you’d think so. “This may seem a little like a rather Neanderthal method of education, but at least you won’t be tempted to pretend to be someone you’re not and you won’t get carpal tunnel syndrome. In fact, the only things you’re liable to get are a little bit of knowledge and some pigeon droppings on your coat–which most people will tell you, and most computers won’t–means good luck.”

Twitter was founded on March 21, 2006.

Kinky also argued that “computers contribute to the homogenization of everyone’s brain. The technological revolution is not bringing us closer together–it’s merely making us more the same.”

That was prescient.

And I fully embrace the ironic fact that I’m relaying these thoughts via a computer, on the internet.