A couple more knocked off the list

I had a business trip last week which gave me extra reading time, so… two more knocked off the list.

First, Merton: A Biography by Monica Furlong. This one underwhelmed me. The first part of the story (up to the point where Merton joins the Trappists) is told in a much more interesting fashion by Merton himself in The Seven Storey Mountain (which I read a couple years back). The second half of the story mostly exists to make you repeatedly ask why anyone in their right mind would join the Trappists.

Second (and much more highly recommended): The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson. Peterson is a hero among pastors to me – a man planted a church and stayed there for 30 years, who focused not on numeric growth but on spiritual growth, who made it his goal to simply consistently pastor (an active verb) the flock that God brought him… Peterson recounts his childhood, his call to ministry, and the lessons learned from decades of pastoring in his usual winsome way. Well worth the read.

I’m now cheating a bit – I found a novel that looked interesting at the library and I’m reading it this week. Then I’ll be back to something off my pile.

The book pile:

  • Surprised by Scripture, NT Wright
  • Merton: A Biography, Monica Furlong
  • Meditative Prayer, Thomas Merton
  • Resurrection and Moral Order, Oliver O’Donavan
  • Paul and the Faithfulness of God, NT Wright
  • A Severe Mercy, Shelden Vanauken
  • From Bible Belt to Sun Belt, Darren Dochuk
  • Parables of Judgment, Robert Capon
  • Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris
  • Evangelical Theology, Karl Barth
  • Confessions of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton
  • The Wounded Healer, Henri J. M. Nouwen
  • The Monster in the Hollows, Andrew Peterson

Books I’ve started but not yet finished:

  • The Kingdom of Christ, Russell Moore
  • Jesus Manifesto, Frank Viola & Leonard Sweet
  • The Fiddler’s Green, A. S. Peterson

Books I wanna re-read:

  • The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, David Dark
  • When I Was a Child I Read Books, Marilynne Robinson
  • Between Noon and Three, Robert Capon

Unread on my Kindle:

  • Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture, Brandon Hatmaker
  • Center Church, Tim Keller
  • The Pastor: A Memoir, Eugene Peterson
  • Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity, Frank Viola
  • Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis, Robert Edsel
  • Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality, Richard Beck
  • Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost Our Way–But We Can Find it Again, Tyler Braun

Bullet Points for a Wednesday Afternoon: San Diego Edition

I’m on business travel this week to San Diego and with so many thoughts rattling around in my head, bullet points might be as good as it gets for now.

  • There’s been a long-time West Coast – East Coast argument among my friends related to burger joints: In-N-Out vs. Five Guys. I like Five Guys, and today made my first trip to In-N-Out. It was fine, but it’s no Five Guys.
  • I had more response on Twitter and Facebook to my burger joint comments than I’ve had on any post for months. Apparently I have a lot of friends who have very strong opinions about burger joints.
  • It’s been a burger-heavy trip; I ate at Hodad’s at a friend’s recommendation on Monday night. It was also pretty tasty.
  • I love the SoCal weather but can’t imagine living here. The traffic. :shudder:

Some thoughts unrelated to my location this week, in decreasing levels of significance:

  • Ferguson, Missouri. So sad. So much pent-up history rearing its head the past week or two.
  • Everywhere else in the world: apparently also falling apart. Come quickly Lord Jesus.
  • I have a long post about death rattling around in my head but no time or will to write it right now.
  • I’ve found precious little interesting new music this year, but the eponymous debut record by the band Colony House is a winner.
  • I won (well, shared) the “Special K” award in our church softball league this season: the award for the most strikeouts. I think I had two.

Paul Tripp on the inadequacy of external accountability

Pastor, author, and counselor Paul Tripp recently resigned from the Mars Hill Church (Seattle) Board of Advisors & Accountability. There was a lot of speculation at that time as to why Tripp was resigning, and in what capacity he might stick around as a consultant and counselor. Tripp cleared that up today with a statement on his website wherein he describes the inadequacy of that sort of external accountability.

It’s because of this love [for the church] that I accepted the position on Mars Hill Church’s BoAA. But it became clear to me that a distant, external accountability board can never work well because it isn’t a firsthand witness to the ongoing life and ministry of the church.

Such a board at best can provide financial accountability, but it will find it very difficult to provide the kind of hands-on spiritual direction and protection that every Christian pastor needs. Unwittingly what happens is that the external accountability board becomes an inadequate replacement for a biblically functioning internal elder board that is the way God designed his church to be lead and pastors to be guided and protected.

So, since I knew that I could not be the kind of help that I would like to be through the vehicle of the BoAA, I resigned from that position.

(Emphasis mine.)

I think Tripp’s point here is key – that healthy, functional leadership comes about by having a local group of elders who can support, protect, and guide the pastor(s). There is no substitute for “firsthand witness” to what’s going on at the church.

All of us involved in church leadership, whether pastors, elders, or other, should be reminded that mutual, humble accountability to people right there within the local church is the best way to stay on track.

Looking back at my thoughts on the Acts 29 Leadership Change

My post from March 2012 about Matt Chandler taking over the reins of Acts 29 has seen some renewed activity this past week with the news that Acts 29 booted Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership in the church planting network.

Last week’s move is a significant one, seeing (as Wenatchee the Hatchet has documented) that for most of its existence, Acts 29 was, both by leadership and funding, nearly indistinguishable from Mars Hill.

In 2012 I had four key thoughts:

Chandler was a strong enough personality to bring about change.

This seems to have borne itself out; it can’t have been easy for Chandler and company to call on Driscoll to resign, but under Chandler’s leadership Acts 29 has done exactly that.

Chandler could help change A29 culture

Not sure that this has really happened, but I’m hopeful that it will start to as days go by. For too long the A29 church planter model appears to have encouraged not just the Mars Hill church style but the Mark Driscoll leadership style – brash, vulgar, MMA-loving, trash-talking, in-your-face “leadership”. One good that could come out of Driscoll’s current woes is for some of his acolytes to recognize the folly of emulating that persona.

Acts 29 could start to get some distance from Driscoll’s controversies

Well, that one clearly hasn’t happened yet.

Driscoll could have some room to rest and grow

I was hopeful that with A29 leadership off his plate, Driscoll might have time to relax, refresh, and recharge. Perhaps I was a little bit optimistic.

Regardless of where you stand on Acts 29 and Mark Driscoll, this is no time for gloating. I continue to pray that Driscoll will come to real repentance and seek reconciliation with those he has harmed, and that the Acts 29 network will be strengthened, not damaged, from Driscoll’s ouster.

Do what he puts before you. Strive to do it well. Pass on what you learned. That’s it.

Over on CT, Ed Stetzer is starting a blog series titled “Act Like Men”. (First article: “What It Means To Fight”). This has predictably caused a bit of feedback from the egalitarian evangelical set, with Scot McKnight posting a response piece from Wheaton New Testament professor Lynn Cohick making the case that Paul’s appeal to “act like a man” (1 Cor 16:13) was directed to both men and women and “reveals the limitations of the Greek language” rather than “making a particular point about masculinity”.

I’m highly unqualified to comment on the Greek, but down in the comments on Stetzer’s post is a fantastic bit from Christopher T Casberg. I’ve got no idea who Mr. Casberg is, but his comment stands on its own (emphasis all mine):

I’m a Marine Corps veteran. I’ve got a sword above my bookshelf. I like rare steak, the rumble of an old Mustang, and American Ninja Warrior. I have fond memories of ramming a foam pugil stick into the belly of a much larger opponent and then knocking him senseless with a (confessedly unfair) blow to the head.

I also think the ongoing debate on manhood in Christian culture is ninety percent macho nonsense. I’m tired of hearing it. We’ve drawn cartoonish caricature of men that resembles Tim Allen more than it resembles Christ and made that our standard. Our leaders continuously imply that their likes and hobbies (MMA fights, fishing) aren’t personal idiosyncrasies but are what actually constitute Biblical manhood. That is ludicrous. I’ve spoken with young believers who are worried about their manhood because they’re not yet fathers or husbands, don’t own a gun, don’t have a “manly” vocation; in other words, our young men are worried that their lives don’t resemble a sitcom character’s. It does not follow.

We do need to ground our conversation in the Gospel, as Ed says. And we do have to allow that there’s Stuff Guys Like and Stuff Guys Do. We endanger our mission with the Gospel, however, when we conflate the two.

Being the man God intends is real simple. Do what he puts before you. Strive to do it well. Pass on what you learned. That’s it. You don’t have to convince yourself that everything is a fight (a word used over 20 times in this article, by the way). You don’t have to call prayer ‘battling Satan’ or worship a ‘call to arms.’ It’s just prayer. Just worship. Do it, do it well, and pass it on. True manliness emerges from obedience, not the other way around.

(The funny thing about Scripture is a woman would do everything Ed exhorts men to do and come out perfectly feminine. It’s not about replicating a certain portrait of your gender. It’s about doing what God asks you to do.)

Yes and amen.

The pile keeps shrinking…

I’m slowly whittling down my bedside book pile, completing Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sun Belt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism last week. This was a fantastic book. Dochuk traces the history of evangelicalism from the early days of the Depression, as evangelicals migrated west from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and the like, to California. As a child of evangelicalism in the 80s and 90s, it was very enlightening to read about J. Vernon McGee, Billy Graham, E. V. Hill, Bill Bright, Tim LaHaye, and others. It was a bit slow going through the 1920s and 30s, but from the 1940s onward it was a wonderful, interesting read. I owe Brian Auten bigtime for recommending it.

Dochuk

I’m now a few chapters in to a biography of Thomas Merton which I’m not real excited about yet, but I’ll give it some time.

The book pile:

  • Surprised by Scripture, NT Wright
  • Merton: A Biography, Monica Furlong
  • Meditative Prayer, Thomas Merton
  • Resurrection and Moral Order, Oliver O’Donavan
  • Paul and the Faithfulness of God, NT Wright
  • A Severe Mercy, Shelden Vanauken
  • From Bible Belt to Sun Belt, Darren Dochuk
  • Parables of Judgment, Robert Capon
  • Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris
  • Evangelical Theology, Karl Barth
  • Confessions of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton
  • The Wounded Healer, Henri J. M. Nouwen
  • The Monster in the Hollows, Andrew Peterson

Books I’ve started but not yet finished:

  • The Kingdom of Christ, Russell Moore
  • Jesus Manifesto, Frank Viola & Leonard Sweet
  • The Fiddler’s Green, A. S. Peterson

Books I wanna re-read:

  • The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, David Dark
  • When I Was a Child I Read Books, Marilynne Robinson
  • Between Noon and Three, Robert Capon

Unread on my Kindle:

  • Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture, Brandon Hatmaker
  • Center Church, Tim Keller
  • The Pastor: A Memoir, Eugene Peterson
  • Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity, Frank Viola
  • Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis, Robert Edsel
  • Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality, Richard Beck
  • Why Holiness Matters: We’ve Lost Our Way–But We Can Find it Again, Tyler Braun

Using HDHomeRun Plus to record H.264 video with Windows Media Center

Yeah, this is a nerdy post. I’m not expecting it’s of huge interest for my usual readers but might be helpful to others searching for more information on this configuration.

In my quest to use my home-built DVR to capture video that can be easily played via my Roku, I ended up purchasing a used HDHomeRun Plus (HDTC-2US). (This replaced an old original-model HDHomeRun that was still working beautifully.)

The HDHomeRun Plus has integrated hardware to do H.264 video transcoding, so if you want to stream live TV across your network you can do it at less than full HD quality, and you can also record video at lower bit rates.

Hardware Setup

This is the easy part. The HDHomeRun has three plugs on the back, and you simply plug in each of them as the QuickStart instructions show you.

Screenshot-2014-08-05_08.29.55

The coaxial cable coming from the antenna in my attic connects to the antenna port; the ethernet jack connects to my router, and the power plug, well, you can figure that out. The power adapter is different than the original HDHomeRun (the Plus takes 12 volts; the original takes 5). A nice improvement here is that even though it’s a dual tuner, it only requires one antenna input. The original model required splitting the antenna signal and plugging it in twice. Getting the extra cable and splitter out of the signal path improved my signal strength on a couple of channels.

You’ll also want to make sure you have the latest firmware installed. The HDHomeRun client software might do this for you automatically; if not, the firmware is rather unintuitively available on the Linux Downloads page of the SiliconDust website.

Software Setup

First, assuming you’re running Windows 7 like I am, install the Windows HDHomeRun software. This will include the configuration app and the QuickTV app. You can run the configuration app to scan for channels and watch them directly from the configuration app.

Then you can bring up Windows Media Center and configure it using the steps on the HDHomeRun Instructions page. That should get you to the point where you can record video using the HDHomeRun and WMC.

The Video

Recording with the default HD settings, this setup will record full high-def TV signals in MPEG2 video format (using the .wtv file extension), with file sizes at about 6 GB per hour.

But that’s a huge file and doesn’t stream well, so I wanted the HDHomeRun to record as H.264. With the latest (June 2014) firmware update, there is the ability, using the HDHomeRun Config application, to select a default transcoding profile. Click on the HDHomeRun device in the left column of the app, and then choose the transcoding level you’d like on the drop-down that becomes available.

That seemed too easy, to the point where at first it didn’t seem like it was doing anything different. Indeed, WMC continues to record .wtv files. However, the .wtv video container now becomes a lot smaller – on the order of 1 GB / hour. It turns out that the .wtv format is just a wrapper around various formats, so if you record the transcoded video, the .wtv container holds H.264 video.

Preparing for Playback on the Roku

Interestingly enough, the .wtv file played pretty directly on the Roku – apparently it managed to recognize the transcoded video format. However, to get the file into the typical .mp4 format so that it can playback on various devices, one more conversion step is necessary.

For that step I’m using MCEBuddy 2.X. MCEBuddy is pretty slick for a free app. It has the ability to sit and monitor for new recordings, convert them, rename them and move them around on the disk based on show and episode information, and do transcoding. It’ll do serious transcoding if you need it to, but since my .wtv files are already H.264 on the inside, there’s a transcoding profile called MP4 Unprocessed. This is a quick operation (about 10 minutes for a 1 hour program) that transforms the .wtv file into an .mp4 file. Quick and easy.

The end result of that process is H.264 encoded .mp4 files, all ready to stream to my Roku within 10 minutes of the recordings being completed from my over-the-air antenna. Pretty slick.

Kirk: The Missional Diagnostic Question

“Missional” is a word that has been used so much in the evangelical church-planting movement over the past decade that it’s almost losing meaning. (See also: “Gospel-centered”.) But Fuller seminary professor J. R. Daniel Kirk proposes a ‘missional diagnostic question’ today that makes a lot of sense to me.

The question is this: “If this church disappeared, would our community miss it?”

That’s it. If we are on mission in such a way that we are loving our neighbors and seeking their good rather than our own, it will be a cause of grief for our community if our church shuts its doors. If we’re living to build the place, pack in as many as we can, then they won’t care.

This rings true to me, and it’s a question I’d love to see our churches and ministries that talk about being “missional” ask of themselves. It might just be a useful evaluation.

Technology upgrades and how they snowball, home video edition

Last week we used some Amazon rewards points and a couple of gifts and upgraded our bedroom TV and bought a Roku. Our old solution, using a monitor and a Mac Mini, was OK,but was getting more and more inconvenient – Plex was great for watching recorded TV, but the Netflix plugin is broken and had to be watched through a browser, Amazon video was even harder to watch, etc, etc.

So now the Roku is awesome for streaming video, and the Plex app for Roku talks to our Plex Media Server (running on our HTPC) fine, but it chokes pretty hard when trying to playback the HD video files recorded off of OTA TV channels. (Basically, the HTPC doesn’t have a high-powered CPU, and when I try to stream 6-GB/hour MPEG-encoded files to the Roku, the HTPC has to transcode the video first, and it’s barely up to the task.

Next attempt: setup some transcoding software. Enter MCEBuddy. It’s convenient enough to use, and there’s a free version, but with a wimpy CPU transcoding from HD MPEG to H264 takes on the order of 2x realtime, meaning that it takes just over 2 hours to transcode a 1-hour show. that’s sort of manageable here in the summer when we don’t record too many shows, but once September hits the HTPC will be transcoding all the live-long day just to try to keep up. There’s a paid version of MCEBuddy that I dropped $15 on with the possibility that it’d speed things up, but my video card is old and slow enough that there’s no hardware acceleration to help out.

So now what? Upgrade the video card so I can do faster transcoding? Might be a possibility, but the better solution looks like to be updating from our current HDHomeRun tuner (a 5-year-old original model) to the HDHomeRun Plus, which has H264 encoding hardware built in. Now I just need to find a spare $100 somewhere. Anybody wanna buy an (aging) Mac Mini?

Krista Tippett on listening to those of other faiths

The guys over on Nomad Podcast recently interviewed Krista Tippett, a Christian who hosts a public radio interview program called On Being. I’ve never listened to her show before – though I may need to catch up with some episodes – but it would seem she makes a habit of interviewing people of all beliefs, of asking lots of good questions, and really actively listening to the answers.

So, the Nomad guys asked her, in listening to and conversing with all these other faith traditions, does she ever feel pressure to convert to one of the other faiths? I thought her answer about belief was helpful [at about 34:00]:

None of [these conversations] make me feel like I have to convert. But here’s what I would say: the cumulative effect of all of these conversations… has instilled in me this expansive and ever-expanding sense of mystery. So my sense of mystery is quite different from when I started. And [has increased] my comfort level with that, and just really being able to take a delight in that [the sense of mystery].

So no, I don’t feel like I have to convert, but I also think that I have less and less of a need to be able to tie everything up with a neat bow. If something doesn’t completely make sense, or it’s not logical, or I don’t see how these things fit together, it doesn’t threaten my faith, and I can leave it to the realm of mystery. And honestly, I find that I can to back into the tradition, into Christianity, that there’s a reverence for mystery there, for the things that we won’t be able to explain in this lifetime, that I actually think modernity kind of neglected.

It’s really very liberating to recover that, and to take delight in it. And I actually think that a reverence for mystery – there’s something that Einstein said, that a reverence for mystery is at the heart of the best of science and the arts and religion – I actually think that a reverence for mystery, which is an orthodox orientation, creates this beautiful space for deeply religious people to remain deeply grounded in their identities and inhabit this puzzling, amazing world full of religious others.