Dereliction of Duty

Evangelical leaders are speaking out endorsing political candidates. Here are the endorsements meted out by a few. Will this compromise their calling?

For Trump:
President of Liberty University – Jerry Falwell Jr.
Founder of Focus of the Family – James Dobson

Against Trump, but short of endorsing Clinton:
President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission – Russell Moore
Christian Author – Max Lucado

For Clinton:
Executive advisor to the World Evangelical Alliance-Deborah Fikes

As I have observed various Christian leaders endorsing candidates for election in the United States, I have had to consider whether it is advisable for these leaders to do so.

What is the role of a pastor? To go into the world and make disciples, baptize believers, and teach believers to obey God’s commandments (The Great Commission).

What is the primary expression of Christian faith? According to Jesus, the law of God is summed up with two commandments (Matthew 222:36ff). To love God more than anyone or anything. To love our neighbors. Jesus also says that the important matters of the law are justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).

If you are a pastor considering endorsing a political candidate or with an even broader brush a political party, I would ask you a simple question. Will your endorsement enhance or impair your primary, God-given calling to attract people to Jesus?

To say that one has to vote for Hillary or Donald to be a good Christian is somewhat ludicrous. One or the other may align more closely with your views and prejudices. But to claim either as a paradigm of Christian values is to unnecessarily taint a church leader’s position when it comes to the one to whom they should be pointing us, Jesus.

As I consider my own decision as to how I will vote, I will keep in mind that my primary allegiance is not to a political party or political philosophy. My primary allegiance should be to God and His Word. But politics plays an extremely important role in our freedom to live out God’s kingdom on earth. I will try to make my political decisions based on some very fundamental biblical principles.

Justice and Mercy. These concepts are woven together in Scripture. God calls on His people to champion the weak, the oppressed, the poor, the foreigner, the widower, and the orphan. He says that people of different ethnicities, social status, and gender are all one in Christ.

Relating faith to American politics is challenging and many devout believers differ as to how their faith should be applied in the political arena. Broadly speaking Republicans emphasize opportunity and meritocracy. Democrats emphasize mercy in the form of a safety net for our most disenfranchised.

The Old Testament concept that relates here is the Jubilee. In the fiftieth year of Jubilee all land reverted to its original tribe and all slaves were freed. During the forty-nine years each individual had the opportunity to build from a place with equal footing. To put it in terms of the Jubilee, Republicans emphasize the forty-nine years of opportunity and competition and Democrats emphasize the Jubilee year of leveling the playing field. To put it another way, Republicans are more for equal OPPORTUNITY. Democrats are more for EQUAL opportunity.

Paul makes it clear that we cannot separate ourselves from those outside our faith community who do not hold to our ethical standards (1 Corinthians 5:9-10). Jesus warns us about judging others (Matthew 7:1-2). Personally, I think that Christian leaders would do better to take stands on issues rather than endorsing political figures. Like me, politicians are sinners made in the image of God – what some might call a mixed bag. Because of that, endorsing one candidate or another sends out a mixed message.

But I do think pastors should talk about the light faith can shed on issues that relate to biblical truths (not liberal, conservative, or personal philosophies). Let’s consider some of those principles and see where the candidates stand.

Perhaps the weakest and most disenfranchised of our people are those who have yet to be born. The Bible talks about our lives before our births (Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:5, and Galatians 1:15). Many, if not most, Christians take this to mean that life starts at conception but the language of the Bible is not specific beyond life starting in the womb.

What does Trump say about the unborn person’s right to live?

His judicial philosophy is not clear. It is difficult to judge what kind of Supreme Court nominees he would put forward.

What does Clinton say about the unborn person’s right to live?

Clinton would be expected to add Supreme Court nominees who would confirm Roe v Wade and its wider implications.

Next, let’s look at what Donald Trump says about the weak, for example a handicapped reporter.

Hillary Clinton worked for the Children’s Defense Fund. She worked with families with disabled children in Massachusetts. She worked with Republicans to help create the Children’s Health Insurance Program. CHIP cut the uninsured rate of American children by half. Today it provides health care to more than 8 million kids.

Let’s look at what Trump has to say about those who were oppressed prisoners of war (POWs).

Later Trump says he doesn’t mean to disparage POWs but refuses to apologize to McCain.

Here is what Donald Trump has to say about women.

Here is how he clarified his position.

How does Trump treat small businesses and individuals that lack his economic clout?

Trump denies the claim of Jeb Bush that he tried to make a donation to the Republican party in Florida in trade for making it legal to build a casino there.

On a related note, the accusation of pay-to-play relates to giving special privilege to the rich and powerful that “regular” people wouldn’t have. Clinton has been accused of providing special privileges to those who make large donations to her family’s charitable foundation. The Washington Post appeared to take one email (from a Clinton aid) to support this accusation. There is no evidence that this or any other email actually resulted in special access, but opponents insist that it indicates an attempt to give pay-to-play access on the part of the aid.

What is Trump’s position on racial minorities?

His campaign had a half-Indian Trump supporter escorted from the Wilmington rally. The young man stated that he felt that he had been profiled.

I could not find any articles or speeches detailing what policies Trump would propose to support his professed love of minorities.

Unfortunately, I could not find any articles articulating Clinton’s positions on minorities and the issues that are important to them. In the primaries, black voters heavily favored Clinton over Sanders.

The Bible makes a big deal about how we treat the foreigner in our land (e.g., Exodus 22:21).

What does Trump say about immigrants?

What does Clinton say about immigrants?

“Who is my neighbor?” Trying to avoid the Bible’s mandate for compassion and service, a Pharisee posed this question to Jesus. Jesus responded with the well-known Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Hillary Clinton has a long history of service to those in need, as stated earlier. Her family has a charitable foundation. The Trump campaign has claimed that their foundation is a front for pay-to-play.

Donald Trump claims to have made $102 million in donations to charity in the last five years. None of the gifts were made with his money but were associated with charitable use of his properties or services. The Washington Post gives a detailed accounting.

Another important Christian principle is honesty, integrity, and doing things out in the open (lately we’ve been referring this last as ‘transparency’).

According to the FBI, Clinton was not truthful with her statements to the public about her emails. Hillary continues to hide her emails.

Trump repeatedly falsely stated that the sitting President of the U.S. was the founder of ISIS. Trump continues to hide his taxes.

One of the most radical principles of Christianity is Christ telling us to love our enemies. How do our politicians measure up on this one?

Donald Trump

Trump built his base largely by insulting other Republicans because they were short, boring, or tweeting a picture implying that their wife was ugly.

Hillary Clinton

I wrote this article because I was so deeply disturbed that people who were supposed to be pointing us to Jesus were pointing us to Trump. He’s some kind of saint? That is absurd. James Dobson even claimed that Trump was born again. (I have never heard Trump make such a claim.) This a failure of responsibility on the part of those who are supposed to be instilling Christian values in those they lead. Speak truth to the issues, but those issues which are clearly defined in the Scriptures. Because you happen to have a personal view or prejudice does not make it a Christian position so why are you squandering the reputations of your ministries? Are you trying to show how powerful you are? Blessed are the meek. Are you trying to show how important you are? Blessed are the poor in spirit. Stop it. Just stop it. In a world with too much hate and cruelty we need to be pointed to the light of the world, not a politician.

So, what about us among the rank and file? How should we vote? Evangelicals are split as to whether we should choose the lesser evil, vote for a third party candidate, or not vote. There are a lot of issues I haven’t broached in this article. Trying to apply Christian values as to form a position on whether the minimum wage should be raised, common core belongs in education, or whether trade deals help the people who need it most are not so clear as whether we should lie, hate, or take life versus speak the truth, show compassion for our neighbor and level the playing field, while giving value to every human life.

As citizens we have to use our critical thinking to determine how our vote can best serve the country and our voices can continue to point others to Jesus, accepting no human substitutes. Study, listen, discuss, and pray. Maybe we’ll get it wrong, but we have a duty to do our best.

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Living Graciously in Our Fallen World

I write this on the weekend between the national conventions of the two major political parties in the USA. The Republican nominee for the next president of the USA was Donald Trump. In his closing speech, he laid out what his opponents describe as a very dark view of the world. Crime in America’s major cities has wildly increased. 180,000 of those who immigrate illegally to the U.S. have criminal records. And on he went listing all of the reasons that America needs someone to save us and he alone could do it.

Immediately, mainstream media jumped in to point out that overall our crime rate is at its lowest in 14 years and that there are a smaller percentage per capita of crimes committed in the USA by illegal immigrants than there are by those citizens who were born here.

Republicans think that the Democrats are trying to polish a turd. Democrats think that Republicans are tarnishing the Obama record by looking only at the dark side. Who is right? Is the country in a dark place or is it “a shining city upon a hill”?

250px-Yin_and_Yang simplisticA moment of thought and most will realize that such a question poses a false dichotomy. Chinese philosophers looked at the world in a more nuanced way as made up of yin and yang. Yin refers to darkness and shadow. Yang refers to sun and light. The philosophies, and the religions that utilize them, recognize that there is both darkness and lightness in the world and that they are interconnected and in some ways both opposing and complementing one another.

250px-Yin_and_Yang

By Gregory Maxwell – From Image:Yin_yang.png, converted to SVG by Gregory Maxwell., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=364239

 

But there is one more little touch to how darkness and light are related. Even on the sunny side of life there is a touch of darkness represented by a black dot and on the dark side of life there is a touch of light represented by a white dot.

The Christian faith describes how humankind was led to rebel against our Creator by partaking of the forbidden fruit. Something that seems to receive little notice, however, is that before the Fall, there was already evil in creation. It was the Satanic serpent who played upon human desire to entice Adam and Eve to sin. Humanity had been shielded from sin and its consequences in Eden but they made the first choice to reject that protection and we have continued to make that choice to this present day.

Thousands of years later, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8 about how creation, the environment, groans and is in bondage to decay as a result of its inhabitants fall into sin.

But just as in the yin and yang, those who live in darkness have light in them. Even after the Fall and the Flood, God describes fallen humanity as bearing His image. Even after Paul had converted on the road to Damascus, he described himself as chief among sinners.

As a Christian, I am not surprised that there is either darkness or light, shadow or sun. The Fall throws shade on our environment, global politics, regional differences, interpersonal relationships, and who we are in our deepest souls. But the sun also rises. There is wonderful light in this world. Christian or not, we can find in one another what C.S. Lewis called the “weight of glory”, the very image of God.

Concepts like darkness and light are very pretty in the abstract. But when we leave the library, the halls of academia, our meditation mats, or our pews, the presence of darkness is felt in often painful and harrowing ways. Bad police officers shoot law abiding citizens because they have been taught to both hate and fear those of another race. Bad citizens shoot police officers because they have been taught to hate and fear those visible representatives of the present order.

We live in a world where the darkness is great. We are literally raping, starving, torturing, bombing, and killing one another. It doesn’t matter that none of this is new. This darkness fell over humanity at the first bite of the forbidden fruit. The darkness and its thirst for destruction is real and frightening. Dark figures both in religion and in politics have risen to great self-serving power by playing on our fears of the darkness. They exploit our fear and feed the darkness within ourselves until we too become filled with hate and become motivated to think of others in such an evil way that we no longer see the light in them, no longer see God’s image in their beings.

Christ took the eternal darkness our rebellion deserves to the cross. He suffered our separation from God and His light in our place. He rose up on the third day victorious over sin and death. He offers this way of escape from the darkness to all who would trust in what He has done on our behalf. In return, He asks that we will forgive and show grace to our enemies. He asks that we not become self-righteous but see not just the light but the darkness in ourselves. He asks that we see not just the darkness in those who are different from ourselves but also the light. He asks that in a world of hate, we love; in a world of takers, we give; in a world of pain, we heal. He asks that when we see someone, some group, a tribe or nation, that is descending into darkness we lift them up.

Today we hear voices saying, “America first!”. They want to close our borders not only to immigration but to trade. They want to stop helping others-fighting for justice, a safe environment, and food for the hungry and hoard their resources. They have some light in their room and fear the darkness outside. So, they rush to close all of the doors and windows. If the exploitation of their fear succeeds, the light they think is their own will be extinguished.

“Fear those of another race. Fear those with a different ethnicity. Fear those of another religion. Fear those with an alternate lifestyle.” Historically, many a tyrant has risen to power on the backs of human fears. I don’t care what country you come from, I’m sure you can find examples of this across its history continuing up to this present day.

“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love,” 1 John 4:16b-18.

Do not be afraid. Yes, the darkness is real. Yes, the pain is real. We don’t need to bury our heads in the sand. We need to recognize darkness and its consequent suffering. We need to recognize that bit of darkness in ourselves that could lead us to respond with disrespect and hate. But we need to become light if we want to overcome darkness. It will never be overcome by our lowering ourselves to the level of our enemies’ darkness. If we are to war for justice we must be armed with truth and love. When we hide our light under a bushel, we ourselves fall into darkness. We must let our lights shine for everyone or there will be light for no one.

In this election season, both parties will play upon our fears of those on the opposing side. But we must remember that little good can come out of our fear. You’ll see the nasty, sarcastic, and disrespectful treatment of the opposition that tells you that the source is coming from a place of fear, hate, and self-righteousness. You will also hear discussions characterized by humility, facts, and mutual respect. Which approach is the most likely to produce light? How will you love your enemies in this election season?

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A Mac User Sets Up a Yoga Tab 3

lenovo-yoga-tablet-3-8-inch-stand-mode-2.jpg

The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 is a budget Android tablet available in 8” and 10” sizes. I bought my Yoga Tab 3 8 (Lenovo YT3-850F) for $150 during a Best Buy sale. The integrated spring-loaded kickstand, massive, 6200-mAh battery, and budget price suckered me in despite the mediocre performance.

By way of background, I should explain that I use an iMac and a MacBook Pro for my computers. I use Android for my mobile devices because I love Google services like Gmail, Google Maps, and Hangouts. I use Microsoft for my productivity apps and primary cloud storage. My employer uses MS Office which also works on Android. When I go into the office building to work, I use a Windows 7 computer. I love having my Word and Excel files available on every platform. I like Pages, Numbers, and Keynote but they’re a hassle when I’m on my Android tablet because I’m stuck with a web interface.

When I’m physically in my office, I set my tablet off to the side to display the time and weather. I’ll talk a bit more about how I use my tablet on a daily basis, but first let’s look at how I configured it.

It is easy to get going on an Android tablet. Just follow the prompts after you power it up and sign into your Google accounts. After running through the setup wizard on my tablet, it immediately updated to Android Lollipop (version 5.1.1).  The Trebuchet launcher that comes stock with the YT3 is minimal but does not support the feature of recognizing “OK Google” from any screen. For that reason, I put the same launcher on my tablet as I have on my phone – the Google Now Launcher. Now I get Google Now when I swipe left of the home screen and “OK Google” works from any home screen or even with the tablet sleeping.

The biggest problem with the Google Now launcher (or any launcher) on this tablet is that, every time you reboot, it resets to the original Trebuchet. This will be a deal breaker for a lot of people.

My temporary workaround for this was to put the icon for the Google Now Launcher front on center on my Trebuchet homepage so that I can easily switch back to it when Lenovo hijacks my settings. I read that if one does a factory reset this bug goes away. I tried that and it didn’t work for me. (Fixed in this past Sunday’s, February 7, 2016, system update.)

So, the first thing I do is install the Google Now Launcher. Then, to ease setting up a new Android device, the next thing I do is install the LastPass password manager to help me log into my new apps and Google Authenticator because I use double authentication to log into LastPass. Be sure to set LastPass (under Settings>App Fill) to allow it to fill logins in other apps.

You’ll need another device, preferably a computer to add your YT3 Google Authenticator to LastPass. It is pretty painless. Open the My LastPass Vault in your browser. Choose Account settings in the sidebar.
Google AuthenticatorLastpass Account settings

Under Multifactor Options>Google Authenticator click the pencil edit icon.

Google Authenticator-Lastpass Authenticator edit

Next click the text ‘View your barcode’. Then click Yes in the dialog box to add your new device.

Google Authenticator-Yes

 

You’ll need to reconfirm your password and click Continue.
Google Authenticator-Confirm Password

When the barcode is displayed, open the Google Authenticator app on your tablet.
Google Authenticator-Bar Code

Click on ‘Begin Setup’ and on the next page ‘Scan a barcode’. Simply aim your camera at the barcode displayed on your computer’s display and code generation will start automatically.

The next step is to Google-fy my apps. I disable the Lenovo Browser, and Email apps (Settings>Apps>Select the app>Disable). Sadly, their Gallery app cannot be disabled. I then install Chrome, Photos, and Gmail. Assuming you used your Google ID during the initial setup of your YT3, I find it easiest to use my computer to go to the Google Play Store and install apps from there. An example of how this streamlines things for me, is that I can search on a Google app, say Google Hangouts, and then click on the words “Google Inc.”  underneath the Hangouts card.

Play Hangouts

 

That pulls up a page with links to all of the Google apps.

Play Google

Let’s see.  I’ll take Photos, YT Music, Chromecast, Chrome, YouTube, Maps, Calendar, Play Music, and Keep. I open each app page in a new tab and install them to my tablet. I just close each tab after clicking install. When they’re all installed, I’m back at my original browser tab.

Next I repeat this process for my Microsoft apps. I search for MS Word which brings up this screen.

Play MS Word

Next I click on the words “Microsoft Corporation” on the Microsoft Word card, which brings up this page.

Play MS Corp

 

In a new tab, I open each card of an app I want. Then I install the apps to my tablet. I want OneDrive, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Office Lens.

With its Snapdragon 212 processor and 1GB of RAM, the YT3 is too laggy for much more than board games like Chess and Words with Friends, but I put Pitfall on there for nostalgia’s sake as well.

I don’t like my screen to wake up whenever there is a new notification so go to Settings>Display>Ambient Display and turn that default feature to off. It can be annoying if you have your tablet charging near your bed to have it light up in the night.

If Android has an advantage over iOS it is widgets on homepages. The first home page, I reserve for a very special widget. I use the Dashclock widget, and add the Weather, Gmail, Calendar, alarm, and music Dashclock extensions. Below that widget I install the hourly weather widget from Yahoo weather. On my phone I set the Dashclock weather as a shortcut to the Yahoo Weather app.  However, that app only works in portrait mode so it isn’t suited for a tablet. That is why I opted to use 1Weather Pro ($2).

As a hobby photographer, I like to have my own pictures as a background. I was using the Wallpaper Changer app to cycle through my pictures. But, SB Wallpaper Changer adds a nice little twist.  It can draw from a folder of portrait images when the tablet is in portrait mode or a folder of landscape images when the tablet is in tablet mode.  So, I switched to that one.

Another app for which I was willing to shell out money was Dock Clock Plus ($3).  This is an information center that, like Dashclock, can be tweaked to oblivion. My settings allow the wallpaper to show through. One of the features the Plus version provides over the free version is that it supports live wallpapers like SB Wallpaper Changer. Another, Plus feature is ‘Pages’. I can swipe the screen to get a calendar view with my agenda on one side and the month on the other (making great use of tablet versus phone real estate).  Another swipe gives me weather information for my current location and up to two more that I specified in the settings. I turn off the World Clock page in the settings, change the font color for additional information to white, and reduce the size of the clock 40 percent. Overall, using this app removes all of the visual clutter seen with desktop widgets (the notification bar, navigation menu, and app dock).  The only feature it lacks is that the icon that tells you your unread emails is not a shortcut to Gmail and the weather summary isn’t a shortcut to a weather app of your choosing. In that regard, the Dashclock widget is more powerful.  Update: the weather feature has been dysfunctional for a few weeks.  I can no longer add or change a location.  The developer is aware of the issue and a fix is promised.

So, my first home page has the Dashclock widget. I get all my information at a glance with easy shortcuts to Gmail, Google Calendar, 1Weather, and Clock built right into the widget. I can drill down to whatever detailed information I’m in the mood for. When it is time to park my tablet at my desk or bedside, I open Dock Clock Plus. Dock Clock Plus even lets me set a window of time as ‘night’ during which my notification sounds are muted and the screen is dimmed. With my tablet standing to the side of my monitors at work, I have a nice information display including time, day, date, weather, and emails.

Finally I install the apps I want for other activities. On my second homepage, I create a folder for games, music apps, social apps, productivity apps, news and sports, Google apps, utilities, shopping, reading, viewing, and photography.

Above those I place my calendar widget on the left and my Google Keep widget (with my do-list) on the right. I use Keep for my do-list because it automatically sorts the unchecked items to the top of the list. Other notetaking apps I use include Evernote and OneNote. Sadly, neither of those automatically sorts checked versus unchecked items in a list.

I haven’t been as impressed with the Yoga 3 speakers as some reviewers, but I do like to use it to listen to music. I actually prefer iTunes for music management on my computer. Since I am on a Mac, I can’t use MediaMonkey (Windows only).  Even if I were on a Windows machine, my wife’s iPad is most easily synchronized with iTunes, so that is what I use. Using iTunes means I need an app to interpret my songs and playlists for Android. iTunes only works to sync iOS and tvOS devices directly. So, for my iTunes-to-Android interpreter, I have iSyncr on my Mac and the iSyncr for iTunes app on my Yoga Tab 3. The Mac app and the Android app work together to keep my music, playlists, rankings, and play count synchronized. Sure, you could drag your music files onto the YT3’s SD card, but what about playlists? I heavily rely on my Neglected Faves smart playlist to keep my music fresh. On whatever device I listen to a song, the playlist removes the ones I’ve listened to in the last month and replaces it with a ranked song I haven’t heard in the last month.  Yes, the app is expensive at $5, but I pay that much every month for Pandora One.

The associated music player, Rocket Player, works great and lets me rank songs as I listen to them and have the ranking sync back to iTunes as well as the play count. iSyncr and Rocket Player are all it takes for Mac people to happily coexist with their Android mobile device.

To transfer non-music files between Android and a Mac or vice versa one also needs to install Android File Transfer to their Mac computer.  When the tablet is connected to the computer, be sure the radio button for Media Device (MTP) is checked on the tablet.  If the window on the tablet doesn’t just pop up, drag down the notifications and touch the notification that describes the mode of USB connection the tablet has.

The Android File Transfer app should open a Finder-like window on your Mac.  From there you can drag files back and forth between your tablet and your Mac.

Having tweaked the living daylights out of my cheap little tablet, I’m pretty pleased with the results. Before work, I listen to a Bible reading with the Bible app and watch a podcast on Pocket Casts. At work, I have this third display (my work computer has two displays) with the time, weather, calendar, art, and personal notifications. After work, during an evening at home, I browse social media and Gmail, enjoy some entertainment, and search until bedtime. Then I let YouTube teach me a little something or let some music soothe me as I fall asleep. The YT3 goes back on the charger until it is time to start all over again.

If you’re tablet needs are as simple as mine, this cheap little guy might be just the ticket. Let me know how it turns out.

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Top Tech 2015

Sony A7R II

10. Sony A7R II
Last year Sony introduced the first mirrorless full frame line of cameras. With the 2015 refresh of that line, Sony has placed on offer possibly the best camera money can buy. The backside illuminated (BSI) 42.4 megapixel sensor can practically shoot in the dark with its ISO range extending all the way up to 102,000. The in-camera five-axis image stabilization has been the talk of the camera pundits. Did you mention that you just bought a new 4K TV or iMac? Well, now you can shoot 4K footage recorded in camera on your A7R II and get the most out of that new display.

Of course no camera is perfect. Even with 319 focus points, the auto-focus isn’t as fast as some premium DSLRs. Although, you can add an intervalometer app for additional cost, most high end cameras include this. There is no built-in flash, so you’ll need a radio trigger to fire off-camera external flashes. You’ll also need to use a cumbersome workaround to geotag your pictures because a GPS is not included. I do believe it is the best camera money ($3200) can buy, but I also think these shortcomings are not acceptable in a pro-grade camera. But if I were spending my money to get a full frame camera, this is the one I would get.

21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina Display

9. iMac 21.5 Retina
My antique desktop desperately needed a replacement. I loved the iMac 27″ 5K but it was just too big. As a camera buff, I did not want to settle for a low resolution display like the ones with which the previous iMac 21.5’s were equipped. So, as component after component failed on my old desktop, I waited.

Then, this year, Apple rewarded my patience with a nearly perfect 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina Display. Was it just me, or did you hear angels singing, also? Not only did the resolution increase, but the color gamut increased by 25 percent. Don’t be lured by the base hard drive, though. I sent that iMac back. At 5400 rpm, it is like tying a weight around your CPU and memory as they try to get work done. With the 2 TB Fusion drive, this computer is transformed into a lightly moving powerhouse that just gets my Photoshop and video rendering work done.

Roku 4

8. Roku 4
I try to see the good in every streaming video player. The new Apple TV with tvOS is much improved over the previous generation but doesn’t yet play Amazon Prime or support 4K video. Amazon Fire TV supports 4K, but is geared primarily toward Amazon’s own products so heavily as to make using it for anything else not really worth the effort. The Roku 4 offers every streaming service you want and supports 4K. Roku 4 is the future-proof streaming player that seems to get everything right.

7. Windows 10
I can’t say I’m terribly excited about Windows 10. It strips out the Windows Media Center app that I’ve used to watch TV on my computer for over 7 years. I was able to hack my Windows 8.1 setup to where it was useable on family members’ PCs and on my MacBook Pro, but out of the box most people found 8.1 to have a less than intuitive configuration. Windows 10 has returned Microsoft to being an OS that anyone could easily enjoy. Is it too strong to say, that Windows 10 may have saved Microsoft from extinction? Probably, but I do think it saved Windows as a PC OS from going to the same level of irrelevance as Windows on a mobile phone.

Display Dock

6. Microsoft Continuum and Display Dock (HD-500)
It is ridiculous the computing power that the smartphones in our pockets possess. Microsoft has c ome up with a way to free the power of your phone. The $99 Display Dock transforms your Lumia 950 or 950XL into desktop computer. Dock a Lumia 950 or 950 XL and use a monitor, mouse, and keyboard to create a PC-like work environment. Bam! Now, you’re tweaking the presentation you started at work on a big screen at home without toting home a laptop. Finally, someone is making it possible to conveniently use the power of our phones.

Surface Book

5. Microsoft Surface Book
Write this down. 2015 was an historic year for Microsoft. This was the year that the company who makes the software for every Windows PC finally made their own laptop. More than two thirds of all desktops and laptops run on Windows, but until now you had to buy your computer from another company. If you didn’t buy that other brand through the Microsoft store you also got what has come to be known as bloatware. Android is the most popular mobile OS, but it wasn’t until Google starting selling their own design of smartphone that we could fully appreciate their vision for a smartphone using their OS. Now, Microsoft has stepped up to the plate to show us what they think a laptop running Windows should be like. The answer? It should be awesome – and expensive. As I watched MS present their new laptop, I considered buying one to replace my MacBook Pro.

The Surface Book is a laptop with a twist. The screen detaches from the keyboard to become a clipboard-sized tablet. Attached to the keyboard, the Surface Book can utilize an optional discrete GPU stored in the base. The touch screen is virtually lag-free when paired with the included Surface Pen stylus. This will be a great tool for artists. Unlike the iPad Pro it will run computer software not just mobile apps.

At 3000×2000, the resolution is pretty dense for a 13.5 inch screen and there are options that range from “how can this be usable” 128 GB storage and 8 GB memory to a sixth gen Core i7 with 1 TB storage and 16 GB memory.

If you can get over (or like?) the looks of the funky screen-balancing hinge and you have more money than you know how to spend, this could be your computer. It starts at $1500 and climbs to $3200. For that kind of money one can buy a maxed out MacBook Pro 15. Anyone want to tell me again how you pay more to buy an Apple computer?
The Surface Book made history in 2015, but if I were buying a Windows laptop, I’d be headed over the counter where they sell the Dell XPS 13.
4. USB-C
I have a gift. There are only two ways to try to insert a USB cable into a USB port. But I feel quite confident that my gift is that I can try to insert the cable with the wrong orientation nearly 100 percent of the time. Apple came out with their proprietary Lightning cable to beat the orientation problem as well as miniaturize their old 30-pin connector. It is a great connector for the all-Apple family. But USB-C is the connector of tomorrow. Cables that meet the specifications are both fast and capable of providing power for charging. How awesome is USB-C? Apple’s new MacBook, Google’s Chromebook Pixel and Pixel C, the Android Nexus 5X and 6P smartphones, and Microsoft’s new Lumia 950 and 950XL phones all use USB-C. I have seen the future and it plugs in using USB-C.

Hoverboard

3. Swagway X1
I don’t think it possible to talk technology in 2015, without using the word ‘hoverboard’ thanks to the “Back to the Future Part 2” references to this year. Granted, the Swagway X1 is a handle-free mini-Segway and doesn’t really hover, but marketing-hype has appropriated the appellation and the popularity began to soar until some brands of hoverboards were reported to have batteries that spontaneously burned. Amazon pulled most brands of hoverboards from their shelves and airlines refused to haul them. I’m not recommending their purchase, but Swagway X1 is a brand that can still be purchased from Amazon so it is probably one of the safer choices of the affordable (about $400) “hoverboards”.

Sling TV

2. Sling TV
Cord cutting is definitely a trend in the United States. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu Plus, and YouTube there is an amazing wealth of video entertainment available for streaming. The problem being what can one do about live television, like news broadcasts and sports? Others have tried to fill this gap only to have The Man shut them down in court.

But now we have Sling TV. $20 per month brings us ESPN, CNN, HGTV, History, Food, Travel, TNT, TBS, AMC, Disney Channel, and others. Use your Chromecast or Roku to watch it on your TV. Watch Sling TV on your computer or mobile device. Sling TV sets your viewing free to be on virtually any device. Cable television was a revolution in offering greater variety and more consistent quality than our old analog antennas. But Sling TV, or something very much like it, is the way that we will watch television in the future – when we need a side of live to go with our main course of streaming videos.

Amazon Echo

1. Amazon Echo
Amazon offered this as a special deal to Prime members on an invitation only basis for $99. I had been about to buy a UE Mini Boom bluetooth speaker for about the same price. Since the Echo serves as a bluetooth speaker, I figured that I had little to lose in giving it a try. Many of the things one can do with an Echo can already done with other devices in the home, including our smartphones. We have apps for Pandora, Tune In Radio, iHeart Radio, and Audible.

What sets Echo apart and makes her fun is that all of these apps are now voice activated. She sits on a table in my living room, but I can call to her from the dining room table, if we decide we would like a little dinner music. She can be activated by either the keyword ‘Amazon’ or ‘Alexa’. ‘Amazon’ seems a little disrespectful for this svelte, graceful cylinder who patiently waits by my lamp to do my bidding, so my Echo answers to ‘Alexa’.  “Alexa, play Pandora.”

I also use the Echo as a timer. When cooking I can simply issue a voice command to start the timer. No need to wait until I can clean my fingers and find my phone. It is trivial but addictingly convenient. Is there something you want to do? Tell Alexa to add it to your “To-do list”. Same thing with the shopping list. As you realize that you’ve used the last of the flour, you simply say, “Alexa add flour to the shopping list.” Open the shopping list on your Alexa app at the store and there is flour just waiting to be checked off.

She has other skills, too. She can tell you what the weather is going to be, search Wikipedia for information, and report the morning’s news to you while you’re brewing your coffee. I use IFTTT and a Nest thermostat so that I can say “Alexa, trigger the heat” and she turns my heat up in the morning. I don’t have any Philips Hue lights, but if I did Alexa would let me control them with my voice.

The skill set for Alexa is just the kind of things that one really wants to make our everyday life details a slight bit easier. No one needs an Echo. But I can’t imagine anyone not loving their Echo – even at the full $180 price they sell for now.

Posted in Geeky | Comments Off on Top Tech 2015

The Church I Never Knew (But Wish I Did Know)

Church Sketch

There really aren’t very many terrible churches.  I’ve travelled around the nation and visited probably hundreds of them. The closest I ever came to going to a church that I considered to be ideal was Forks-of-Cheat Baptist Church in the West Virginia hills outside of Morgantown.

It was a tiny church made up primarily of white rural congregants. Our pastor was also the Dean of Students at West Virginia University. He was a former Navy chaplain. He smoked a pipe and loved a good joke.  Rev. Joe Gluck was fond of mailing me cartoons cut out from the newspaper and adding a little hand-written note. I loved him. We all did.

Despite what modern standards of inclusiveness would have made of our all-white faces, our congregation was very diverse with regard to personalities, temperament, education and politics. But our church was a place where it was safe to be ourselves. Our pastor set a tone of tolerance, acceptance, and love. He faithfully preached the Bible and its truths. He did this in a way that gave us standards to which we could aspire without beating ourselves up for being mired in our humanity.  So, in a way, I think Joe and his country church forever shaped my idea of the kind of church to which I would ideally belong.

Christians all deny that they define church success by budgets, attendance numbers, or conversions, but I’ve never bought that. Denominations don’t invite church leaders from small towns, small churches, or struggling missions to be keynote speakers. We want to hear from “winners”.  Unless the shepherd of a rescue mission has written a money-making book, she’ll never be called upon to address our delegates. And if one is not an actual bona fide pastor? Forget about it.

If you run a restaurant that hires ex-cons and offers free meals to people who can’t pay for them, don’t expect to have your voice respected unless you somehow become famous in the secular world first. The sister who stays home to care for her disabled brother so her parents can go to work and still finds time to volunteer as church Treasurer? of course, we can’t learn anything about being a Christian from her (sarcasm).

We Christians can lie to ourselves about what we value but we don’t really have to look that hard to see that we measure success more like the church was a corporation than like Christ’s body on earth.

As I sit in my pew, holding my candle and singing Silent Night, I look around and see some people who are whiter, some who are browner or of another color. Some are in suits and others are wearing the uniforms they work in.  Maybe a few don’t even have a decent pair of shoes or smell very clean.

Or perhaps, instead of always sitting in a pew, we listen to the homily while making sandwiches for Meals-on-Wheels, packing a care box for a foreign missionary, wrapping Christmas presents for the children of prisoners, or folding clothing donations for the homeless shelter.  If there also happens to be drinks and Christmas cookies, so much the better.

If I’m honest, I wish that some were of different faiths who come just to be loved because that’s the way Jesus people are. I wish my Islamic neighbors would come because this is a safe place where you can be hugged instead of harassed.

This Christmas I don’t want to go to a pageant with live camels. I don’t want to hear a choir of a thousand trained voices. I want to go to a little neighborhood church where people respect each other and love each other with all of our differences and all of our warts. The light of hope that we can become better and do better will be offered without making us feel like we are failures because we have not yet become all that Christ made us to become.  We’re more  like a basketball team where we all seek to help one another have better lives because we succeed only when our team succeeds. We are less like a talent contest where every week a new loser is kicked out the door and we’re all wondering who is going to be the next to go.

Putting on a Las Vegas-style Christianized show is expensive and hard. It might be argued that it is also expensive and hard to take up His cross and follow Jesus in service and love. My heart aches for a church that makes its investment choices based more on the will of Christ than the way of the world.

The capital T Truth is preached. The capital G Grace is demonstrated. The capital S Service is a lifestyle. Maybe this little church I can walk to doesn’t exist on earth. But if it doesn’t, the world is worse for it.

Posted in Faith and Theology | Comments Off on The Church I Never Knew (But Wish I Did Know)