Mapping Technology and Faith with FaithTech

For the last decade or so, I’ve been introduced to lots of wonderful people who have started websites and groups devoted to the space of technology and faith. Unfortunately, it’s really, really hard to create a sustainable model, and many of the groups haven’t been long lived. Thankfully, there is at least one organization that is doing really well and continues to grow and expand.

FaithTech.com was started by James Kelley, who has been a church worker and a tech entrepreneur, and I’ve been so encouraged to see how he’s been able to connect church leaders and those working in the tech industry, in his home base of Waterloo and other cities around North America. If you’re near one these cities (and even if you’re not), I highly recommend you connect with FaithTech.

Recently, we talked about trying to map the various issues and needs around technology and faith, including everything from theology, practical how tos, parenting guides, faith at work, ethics, church and media, future, and other concerns. As we talked, we kept coming up with lists of 4-5 different ways of categorizing things, sometimes focusing on groups of people (tech workers, parents, pastors) or major issues (AI, addiction, etc.), and sometimes merging these to think about academic study vs. popular needs.

In the end, I put together a visualization that attempts to get everything on one page, allowing theology and Christian thought to permeate both the main spheres of our life (home, work, church) as well as the major issues of the day (wellness, creativity, and futurism).

I’m sure James and his team will expand and refine this, but I’d love your feedback if have anything to add or that we’re missing major areas of concern.

Also, if you’re in the Dallas / Ft. Worth area and interested in starting a branch of FaithTech, drop me a line.

Does Face-to-Face Education Damage Seminary Students?

The Campus Experience

Recently a student from a previous semester sent me an email saying, “A course I’m taking this semester is confusing me. Could we have coffee and talk about it?”

This is the kind of connection I think every professor dreams of. Running into students after you’ve had them in the classroom, reconnecting, and seeing them change is a truly satisfying joy. I also teach online and I am responsible for building out the technology in Dallas Theological Seminary’s online programs. As much as I support and believe in what we are doing, in my personal experience I’ve found it harder to create these same kinds of connections in online classes, and that has always made me wonder about the spiritual formation side of online education.

So is this true? Is online education inferior when it comes to relationship building and the spiritual formation side of the seminary experience?

Studies in Online Education

Last year, two major studies were released about online education in seminary. In the spring, Association of Theological Schools (ATS), the accrediting body for the majority of seminaries in the North America, from the SBC schools to my employer, DTS, to Harvard, Duke, and Roman Catholic seminaries, put out a two-part study (part 1, part 2) of 2016 graduates which compared the growth and skills of students who completed their degrees primarily on campus to those who did most of their work online. Auburn Seminary also put out a comprehensive study called “(Not) Being There” which has some rich insights. One of the key takeaways answers our question saying that “Online student outcomes are equal to or better than those of traditional residential classes.”

The ATS study drills down and compares individual ministry skills (Since their data is in PDF, I’m reproducing it below). In many cases in the charts below, online students actually reported that their personal growth and ability to perform ministry work was at a higher level than what the campus-based student reported. One might think that a student sitting alone with a laptop would be less enthusiastic about education, have a less vibrant spiritual life, and without rubbing shoulders with us – the esteemed faculty – they’d be less able to teach, pray, and lead people. But this study shows just the opposite!

Online vs. Campus Personal Growth

Personal Growth Majority Online Majority Campus Difference
Enthusiasm for learning 4.42 4.17 +.25
Respect for my religious tradition 4.22 4.17 +.06
Self-knowledge 4.19 4.11 +.08
Respect for other religious traditions 3.92 4.05 -.13
Empathy for poor and oppressed 3.78 4.00 -.22
Insight into troubles of others 3.85 4.00 -.13
Trust in God 4.30 3.95 +.35
Self-discipline and focus 4.27 3.97 +.30
Ability to live one’s faith in daily life 4.20 3.88 +.32
Strength of spiritual life 4.20 3.75 +.45
Self-confidence 4.10 3.92 +.18
Desire to become an authority in my field 4.03 3.87 +.16
Concern about social justice 3.72 3.95 -.23
Clarity of vocational goals 3.86 3.80 +.06
Ability to Pray 3.64 3.37 +.27

 

Online vs. Campus Ministry Skills

Skills Majority Online Majority Campus Difference
Ability to think theologically 4.49 4.45 +.04
Ability to use and interpret scripture 4.38 4.33 +.05
Ability to relate social issues to faith 4.18 4.18 +.00
Ability to work effectively with men and women 4.11 4.17 -.06
Knowledge of church doctrine and history 4.19 4.11 +.08
Awareness/appreciation of globalized context of ministry 4.20 4.07 +.13
Ability to work effectively in my religious tradition 4.09 4.07 +.02
Knowledge of Christian philosophy and ethics 4.21 4.00 +.21
Ability to interact [well] with other cultures, racial/ethnic contexts 3.97 4.00 -.03
Ability to teach well 4.20 3.93 +.27
Ability to lead others 4.09 3.89 +.20
Ability to give spiritual direction 4.07 3.77 +.30
Ability to preach well 3.96 3.97 -.01
Ability in pastoral counseling 3.80 3.85 -.05
Ability to interact effectively with other religious traditions 3.91 3.92 -.01
Knowledge of church polity/canon law 3.72 3.71 +.01
Ability to conduct worship/liturgy 3.70 3.79 -.09
Ability to administer a parish 3.53 3.24 +.29
Ability to integrate insights from science into theology/ministry 3.79 3.62 +.17
Ability to integrate ecological concerns into theology and ministry 3.54 3.59 -.05

How do we explain this?

I have to admit that I was genuinely surprised when I first read these results. I have worked in seminary online education for more than 10 years, and I believe in the importance of bringing education to wherever God has called people. But even as I argued that the value of a student staying in his or her community, my experience of connection online versus on campus always made me wonder.

So, what does this data really show? When I posted it on social media some time ago, I heard a number of interesting responses, and I’ll work through them below:

  1. Question the Method – A few people seemed to distrust the results because they were self-reported. Some thought that it would have been better to ask the students’ spouses, friends, and congregants about their spiritual development and skill, but that’s not terribly realistic and shouldn’t affect the outcome. Others suggested that online students aren’t reporting accurately either because they are untrustworthy or because they aren’t around fellow seminarians and profs makes them less aware of their shortcomings. If this were true, it doesn’t explain why they rate themselves lower in some other areas.
  2. It’s the Evangelicals! – In summarizing the data, Tom Tanner, the Director of ATS’s Institutional Evaluation, pointed out that the two areas where online students reported less skill were “empathy for the poor and oppressed” and “concern about social justice.” He explained this by saying that, “a greater number of predominantly online students tend to be evangelical, rather than mainline Protestant or Roman Catholic, two ecclesial families who tend to give those areas greater attention.” This is plausible, but if this study is simply comparing evangelicals to mainline or Roman Catholic (rather than online vs. on campus) it would imply that evangelicals tend to be worse at social justice but better as teachers, leaders, prayers, and parish leaders. I had the chance to ask Tom if he felt that this was the implication, and he said he thought it as more complex than that.
  3. Campuses Are Negative – Lastly, as the title of this post suggests, one twitter friend suggested that perhaps we have it all wrong. Maybe seminary campuses are toxic places, and interactions on campus actually weaken spiritual life, the ability to teach and pray, etc.

I definitely wouldn’t argue that a campus is an inherently negative place for formation. But I think there is something to this. The process of uprooting one’s family and moving to a residential campus does come at a high cost that goes beyond the financial. Compared to a generation ago, seminary students today tend to be older which means they have more family and financial responsibilities at a time when the cost of education is much higher. Taking graduate classes, whether online or on a campus is tough to balance alongside work and family. But these data may indicate that distance ed students are able to lean on their existing jobs and community to lighten that burden.

Of course, these aren’t the only explanations for why online education is as good as or better than face-to-face. Some literature suggests is that online courses tend to get created from the ground up rather than retread like a campus class, and sometimes the fresh thinking makes for a better course. The Auburn study also suggests that, “The old divide between traditional, online and hybrid courses is obsolete,” and that students learn in a variety of ways including where they live and work.

All of this suggests that as with other areas of life, technology change functions like a mirror that forces us to evaluate how we’ve always done things. How and where does education and formation take place? Is the professor the key to change and what is the role of presence in forming meaningful relationships? These are important questions to wrestle with for both online and campus education. The good news is that after a few decades of experiments and tests, we can say that online education appears to be a spiritually healthy way to train men and women for ministry.

Lying to Machines: How Apple’s New “Do Not Disturb While Driving” Feature Will Shape Your Soul

Over the past few months, I’ve been testing out the beta version of iOS 11 on my iPhone, and I’ve found myself doing something very disturbing – I regularly tell Siri little fibs, and sometimes I tell her full blow lies.

The “Do Not Disturb While Driving” Feature

iOS 11 was released yesterday, and one of its most important new features is called “Do Not Disturb While Driving.” If you enable it and set it to “Automatic,” your iPhone will detect when you’re moving fast enough to be driving which will trigger two main things.

First, it stops displaying all Notifications such as tweets, texts, and weather alerts. Second, when someone calls or texts you, it sends an auto-reply saying that you’re driving and that you’ll respond to them later.

Based on statistics showing an increase in accidents caused by distracted drivers and laws in 47 states banning texting while driving (my home state of Texas finally passed one this month), there is some hope that this will prevent more needless fatalities.

But I think the more interesting aspect of this feature is what happens when you attempt to use your phone while driving. If you click the home button, a dialog comes up that says “Do Not Disturb While Driving is Enabled,” and it presents the user with two buttons: “Cancel” and “I’m Not Driving.”

A White Lie That Grew and Grew

Notice that the second button doesn’t say “Disable” or something machine-oriented. Instead, Apple has chosen to make the button into a statement that you, the user, say about yourself. In doing so, Apple isn’t letting you to just turn off the feature without telling your device something that is either true or false.

During the Beta period of iOS 11, I had a chance to test this while I sat in the passenger seat as my wife drove for part of road trip. When I took out my phone, I truthfully tapped “I’m Not Driving” and caught up on some emails.

But then a little later, I found myself at a stop light, needing to get directions.

I tried voice commands, but when “Do Not Disturb While Driving” is enabled, the screen won’t show you any feedback. This makes using Maps very challenging. (Other features, such as voice texting, are also visually downgraded while driving).

Desperate for directions, I gave in and pressed the “I’m Not Driving” button, reasoning that while I was in the driver’s seat with the car in gear, I wasn’t actually moving and the light was still red. After tapping the button, I quickly setup directions before the light turned green, and all was well. No big deal.

But soon after that first little fib, I inevitably found myself driving and simultaneously feeling that I “legitimately” needed a phone function that I couldn’t get to via voice commands. In retrospect, I could have pulled over, but it was just this once, and I’m special, right?

So, while I was driving, I tapped “I’m Not Driving.”

And in doing so, I lied to a $700 object made of plastic, glass, and rare metals.

Conditioned to Lie

I’d like to think that the “Do Not Call While Driving” feature will at least cause drivers to think about how much they use their phones in the car. But my prediction is that in the next few weeks, millions of people will begin doing the exact same thing that I, to my shame, did. It’ll start small with a “legitimate” purpose, but eventually it’ll snowball and people will just tap “I’m Not Driving” as unthinkingly as we all check the “I’ve Read the Terms and Conditions” box.

Unfortunately, this will come quite naturally to us, not because we’re liars, but because of the way computer user interfaces (UI) are designed. Over the past few decades of computer use, we’ve been presented with thousands of buttons that say “OK” and checkboxes that say “I’ve read …” This has taught us that interacting with computers and devices means tapping whatever button is in the way of what we want.

This probably wasn’t terribly significant when the stakes were low, and it might seem hyperbolic to call it “lying.” But when we bend the truth about reading the Terms and Conditions, there aren’t kids in the roads or oncoming vans full of people.

Now that people’s lives are at stake, I worry that this “habituation of the button” will essentially render Apple’s well-intentioned new feature powerless. If someone wants to get new directions while sitting in traffic – or much worse, check their likes while cruising a residential street – they just have too many years of practice clicking through whatever is in their way to stop now.

Technology vs. Bad Habits

While I don’t think “Do Not Disturb While Driving” will ultimately work, I do think that this feature signals more what’s coming with technology and with ourselves. At least as far back as monks who created accurate clocks to prompt their times of prayer, humans have attempted to use technology to prompt good behavior and prevent bad behavior.

In recent years, a variety of tracking apps and have been built with the belief that if technology can just show us how few steps we take in a day, that we’ll be motivated to live healthier lives.

And it seems that when a person is already motivated to change, these tools can really work. I’ve personally become a much better runner since using RunKeeper. But when a person doesn’t want to change, we’ve also seen that they’ll do whatever it takes to find a way around the technology. There are plenty of people who sit on their couches shaking their Fitbit up and down while binge-watching Netflix shows just to ensure they get lower insurance premiums.

Advanced Technology Will Require Advanced Deceit

Shaking a FitBit or tapping a button might not seem like soul-forming activities, but in the coming years our devices will only grow smarter and our interactions with them will become more humanlike. This means that the methods we will use to skirt the system will similarly become more humanlike.

In other words, as technology get better at tracking us or warning us about bad behavior, we’ll have to get better at lying and deception in order to get around it. Like an alcoholic chiseling off his ankle monitor, we will click, tap, break, or lie to whatever sits in the way of what we want. One day, we might need to look an android in the camera and tell it something untrue, just like we do to other humans.

In this sense, technology will continue to do what it always does – reflect back to us what’s happening deep within us. Like a mirror, our interactions with technology have the potential to show us not what we say we value, but what we truly desire when we think no one is looking. Remember, technology, like God, is always watching.

Shaping Our Souls

You might think it’s hyperbolic to say that tapping “I’m Not Driving” while driving is lying. After all, it’s just an inert device and a few hundred million lines of code. But the truth is that none of our actions, however private they seem to us, happen in a vacuum.

Tapping that button not only endangers others around us, it also forms our souls in a particularly destructive way. When I choose to act in untruthful ways, even with a machine, I’m developing a pattern and a practice in my life. I am inculcating myself in a world of alternative facts where truth is defined by what I want rather than what truly is.

So when you update to iOS 11 and you find that “I’m Not Driving” button looking back at you, spend just a second thinking about what the interaction is telling you about yourself and the orderliness of your desires.

And then, for the sake of both your neighbor’s body and your own soul, put your eyes back on the road.

Writing Worship Music with AI – Recurrent Neural Networks

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been toying around with a type of Artificial Intelligence (AI) called a Recurrent Neural Network (RNN). Since they’ve already been used to cooking recipes, Bible verses, Obama speeches, Mozart Music, Image descriptions, and writing prompts, I thought it would be fun to see what kind of lyrics it would produce if I fed it some popular Christian music.

I’m not sure it could quite pass as contemporvent, but it seems like something you might see in a future Church Hunters episode, and I can guarantee that Challies won’t sing them :).

3 of My Favorite AI-Produced Worship Songs

I will My see in You Sound

When I am heart, I am free
Here’s my heart, You are life
Here’s the life, I am free
You are love is peak my heart, You are life

I am heart, You are life
You are love is love is true
Here’s the wait
I am free

You are life, I am heart, I am free
You are love is heart, You are life
You are love is love is love

When I Am

Here’s the life the reach strong to see
You are love is love is promise
You are life I am true

Here’s the life, You are life
You are life, I am heart, Lord
I am life, You are life

Here’s all the reaches the wait
You are life, I am free
You are life that is love

You are life, Lord
I am heart, You are life

With His Speak

You are love is life
With I am healed the life all the bled
You’re is love is way the life
I am all the dark my heart

I am bread on Your love is
We cry strong place the with merce
You are life is heart, Lord
And strong the life, With all the reach that is pore

Update: Markov Lyrics

After this initial post, I tried another AI/text library that markovify that uses something called a Markov chain to produce text. It doesn’t handle the punctuation (line-by-line) as the RNN libraries I describe below, but the lyrics are a bit more sensible:

What this world needs is not a human right
To see if they were yours all along
You are hope for justice,
Stand firm in the sand, temporary wealth

Walls are falling down
Now the walls are falling down,
storms are closing in
And here I am born again,

Woah, Let the river flow.

How majestic is Your love is moving,
moving among us So we give You all our strength,
With all our sin
The people sing Hosanna Hosanna

in the shelter of the Lord, my God saved the day,
When my world caved to nothing
You came from God above
The Father’s only Son
Saved my soul My Life

Here I am…
King of the world…
I’m famous in my mind
take my time to set me free,

Salvation is here and it is finished.
You can shine on You I can’t live all alone.

How Were These Created?

I’m not really qualified to explain Recurrent Neural Networks (RNN) on a technical level (this is one of the best explanations), but the basic idea is a programmer can feed an RNN some data (sequential information such as images, music, text, etc.), and then the RNN “reads” it all and stores the the patterns in the input source. Based on what it’s learned it starts to be able to guess what’s next. For example, you probably know the next word in “Praise the ____” and, given enough input, an RNN can guess that next word as well.

For this experiment, I fed the Torch-RNN library (using these two installation guides) about 500 songs from the top Christian artist according to Billboard which included Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, Lauren Daigle, Casting Crowns, Mercy Me, Christy Nockels, For King and Country, and a few others.

It took a few hours to process, and then it started producing output like you see above.

Of course, the output doesn’t actually make any real sense. It sounds kind of worship-y, but it’s also complete gibberish. That’s because the RNN doesn’t truly understand or feel what it processed. It doesn’t even know the basic parts of English grammar like subject or verbs or musical concepts like a chorus or a bridge. It’s only intelligent in the sense that it grasps the patterns in the input and, based on probabilities, can generate something like what you fed it.

In this case, it seems to think that the words “life” and “heart” and “live” have a high probability of being in a song.

Limitations aside, the output is tremendously fun, and perhaps more interestingly, RNNs do a good job of demonstrating the difference between the ability to perform a complex mental task (you might call this intelligence) and higher level concepts like understanding, wisdom, or consciousness.

What about the Psalms?

I also wondered what kind of words the RNN would generate if it were fed from another source of comparable Christian content, so I fed it the 150 Psalms from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Here are some of the passages it generated:

10 The LORD all the LORD with the man a saint of the LORD,
and the LORD in the LORD is for the peoples.
11 You have the will the seet the LORD,
and the said the hand of the LORD of the LORD
and string my state and the seard of the LORD,
and be the will the sound and the proins.
15 The LORD is his praise the come of the LORD,
and his sear the rebeath of the LORD will not be the waters,
and and came his stands the reap,
the LORD is a strong the earth of the LORD

and another with few parameters (temperature from .2 to .4) adjusted:

22 The LORD,
and the righteous have seek the LORD with the LORD,
and like of the LORD his praise the will sing and the will of the will from the pries of the will people.
13 He whise in the people in the LORD all the shall not of the LORD,
and the LORD,
and the for my righteous and of the will not the earth;
the LORD and do me who sea have not the will not of the earth of the fainter of the refut the land of the hand of the piens of the will be the righteouss of the LORD in the will not the will not and the revere the will be forther of the LORD with the ining to the word of the LORD,
and the will be are a same

Update: Markov Psalms

15 He sends out his word to Jacob,
his chosen one, stood in the morning. His holy mountain,
2 beautiful in elevation, is the nation whose God is a mere breath!
10 The LORD brings the counsel of the LORD, for the dead?
4 Have they no knowledge, all the ends of the LORD, our Maker!
May prayer be counted as incense before you,
our secret sins in the land; you do not get their fill.
78 Let the insolent oppress me.
14 Satisfy us in the way I should go,
for to you the fear of you,
and let no one to bury them.
4 Even though I walk in the heavens;
your faithfulness answer me, O God, do not get their fill.

Clearly, there are some differences in the patterns.

Remember, the RNN isn’t simply counting words and then spitting them back at the same frequency. Although it does appear this way, the RNN is actually using probability to generate the next most likely character. In this case, if the character is ‘L’ then from the Psalms dataset, the RNN thinks that “L” is  more likely to be followed by “ORD” while in the contemporary songs, it’s more likely to be “ife” or “ove.”

The Psalms also have longer lines. Statistically speaking, this is because the return character occurs less frequently, and the RNN then considers a return less likely after each word.

I hope you have as much fun with this as I did.

“The righteous have seek the LORD with the LORD”

Indeed.

Little House in the Prairie on Technology Dependence

I recently had the chance to speak down at the lovely Christ Church of Austin, TX. Afterward one of the attendees sent this to me this great little moment from one of the Little House stories:

“If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of a light,” Ma considered. “We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl before this newfangled kerosene was ever heard of.”

“That’s so,” said Pa. “These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves–they’re good things to have, but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.”

― Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter

Secure Your Online Life with the Bible (and Good Security Practices)

The New Year is a great time to take inventory of your online security setup.

We can’t control the (now commonplace) security breaches at companies that hold our data, but we can ensure that we don’t have any glaring holes that would make us an easy, vulnerable target.

It’s Not Just About Passwords

We’ll get to strong passwords in a minute, but by now I hope we’ve all learned that passwords alone can’t fully protect us. Here are a few things that can help offer additional layers of protection.

Things to Do Right Now

  1. Two-Factor Authentication – This is probably the most powerful and easiest security feature to turn on. Every major social network and credible banking system will have this feature which requires two things to login – your password and a second physical thing like a text message, device, or fingerprint.
  2. Avoid Debit Cards – If someone steals your credit card, you can simply decline false charges and not pay them. But if someone steals your debit card, the money they use is gone and much harder to get back. Racking up debt with a credit card is bad, but if you use your money wisely to begin with, then you’re safe with a credit card.

Things to Consider

  1. One-Time Credit Card Numbers – Bank of America, Citi, and others allow you to generate a one-time use (or multiple use with an expiration date) credit card number you can use for online transactions. For sites you plan to only use once this can be great. However, you might avoid it if you think you’ll return the item or if you’re reserving a hotel or rental card where you need to show the card in person to verify.
  2. Alternate Email Addresses – For a long time, I’ve used a common email address across a lot of accounts, but based on the recommendations I’m seeing creating additional less public emails for networks can make it harder to link all of a person’s accounts or use those addresses for phishing attacks.
  3. Alternate Phone Numbers – Again, listing the same phone number publicly in several accounts makes that number less secure. Having a secondary, less public number like a Google Voice account that you use for Two-Factor can strengthen your overall security.

Good Passwords Are Strong and Unique

What undergirds all the practices above is having a good system of passwords, and that means they need to be both strong and unique.

  • Strong passwords – A strong password is one that can’t be easily guessed by a machine, and a password becomes stronger when it either uses more characters (not just the 26 lowercase letters, but also uppercase, numbers, and symbols), or is very long, or both.
  • Unique passwords – Even if you have the strongest password in the world, if you use it for Facebook, your bank, and your email, once that password is lost, you’ll be out of luck.

One of the best ways to ensure that you have strong, unique passwords for each website or service is to turn off your browser’s default username/password use a tool like 1Password or KeePass. These tools can generate very strong passwords and manage them for you across websites and browsers.

The Problem with “Strong Passwords”

Even if you use 1Password, KeePass, or another tool, you still need at least one good, strong master password that’s not written down anywhere and isn’t recorded in another electronic tool. Further, whether or not you use a manager, the password requirements for many websites can sometimes cause more problems than they solve. Most websites attempt to help you create a strong password by requiring that your password meet the following criteria:

  • 8 or more characters
  • Upper and lowercase
  • At least one number
  • At least one symbol

In theory, these requirements are a great way to force people to make strong passwords. However, in practice, the past few decades have shown that there are several problems with these 8-letter strong passwords:

  1. It’s hard for humans to remember a truly random set of characters, so we often take a common word and replace a few letter with symbols (a => @, s => $).
  2. Because even that is hard to remember, we use the same password for dozens of websites and that makes us vulnerable.
  3. An 8 character password that meets the above requirements is actually not as secure as a longer password with all lowercase letters.

On the last point, this brilliant XKCD comic points out the vast security difference between a short “complex” password and a longer “simple” password

XKCD

  • Tr0ub4or&3 = 28 bits of entropy, 3 days for computer to guess (1000/sec)
  • correcthorsebatterystaple = 44 bits of entropy, 550 years for a computer to guess

It turns out that 24 letters instead of 10 letters – even without uppercase, number, or symbols – is much, much more secure. And, it’s way easier to remember.

The problem is that many websites won’t let you make passwords like “ilovejesusandpumpkinpie” even if it is several orders of magnitude more secure because they still require uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

The Bible as a Strong Password Generator

So here’s a fun solution that can meet both the requirements of websites and manage to be more secure: A Bible reference.

Take a look at the following well-known reference:

John3:16

It has (1) upper and (2) lowercase letters, (3) numbers, and (4) a symbol (see opening graphic). This means it (1) meets most password security requirements, and (2) it’s easy to remember.

You can have lots of fun thinking of references that are little inside jokes to yourself, such as “1Chronicles4:10” (for your bank) or “Leviticus3:16” (for your fitness tracker) or “Exodus34:35” (for Facebook).

But, there are two important caveats. First, common references like “John3:16” are probably the “password123” of bad Christian passwords, and the ones I mentioned above might be overused due to their inherent hilarity. So please  you avoid using anything that’s ever been written on Tim Tebow’s face or turned into a multi-million dollar empire.

Second, as some commenters pointed out (thanks fellas!), it is possible that someone could attempt to hack passwords that fit the Bible verse pattern, so it’d be best to also include a random word or two that will both lengthen the password and increase its overall entropy/security.

John3:16 – meets password standards, but is still hackable
John3:16pumpkinroof – meets password standards, plus more entropy

In summary, it’s always best to use long, random passwords from a generator, but for this few that you need to remember yourself, if you can meaningful but uncommon references and add one or two random words to it, then combined with the security practices above, you should be well on your way to a more secure 2017.

Special thanks to Robert Estienne for inventing the modern versification system :)

Technelogia, the Virtualization of Culture, and the Theology of Artificial Intelligence (Videos)

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of delivering a series of lectures on technology for Dallas Theological Seminary‘s Arts Week. Arts week is one of my favorite times at DTS because there are art installations on campus, evening events with artists and theologians, and a series of talks on the arts. Normally, there is a fantastic outside speaker, but this year they took a risk on having me to it and trying to pull together theology, the arts, and technology.

Why Pastors and Theologians Need Artists and Coders

For the opening talk, I connected technology and the arts through the Greek term technē, which forms the root of our English word technology, but covered both the mechanical arts and the fine arts. I also introduced the basic concept of Social Shaping of Technology as a model for understanding the mutual shaping process between culture and technology/arts as well as the social meanings we assign to the things around us.

The Virtualization of Culture and the Need for Embodied Places and Practices

For the second talk, I drew a connection between the sense of placelessness that people often feel in modernity and in technological culture and the placelessness of Isreal when they wandered through the desert. To give Isreal a sense of place, God gave them an entire set of physical, visual, and linguistic cultural elements to ground them in the world and form them into the people of God. In our own placeless cultural moment, I think one of the greatest gifts the church has to offer to the world are our physical, embodied practices especially communion which evangelicals have tended to avoid.

Theological Reflections on Artificial Intelligence

For the third talk, I abandon the suit and tie to explain the emergence of Artifical Intelligence (AI) and lay out some of the opportunities it brings along with the unintended consequences, ethical issues, and theological issues that it will surface. I wish I could have gone deeper into each one, but I was grateful to be able to introduce these ideas in a setting like a seminary chapel. (Kevin Kelly recently gave a great talk on AI at Q Conference and there are some wonderful similarities in our approaches).

What Your Chapel Architecture Says About Your Theology

To end the week and reconnect theology, technology, and the arts, I discussed DTS’s coming project to build a new chapel space on campus with our VP of Campus Operations. We were able to briefly introduce the history of Christian worship spaces, some of DTS’s guiding values in past projects, and the kinds of considerations one needs to think through in building a worship space. Although we weren’t able to go in depth on these topics, I hope it introduced our students to the kinds of questions they may one day be asking in a ministry about how to embody their faith in the world alongside artists and technologists.

The History of Bible Software (Infographic)

Surprisingly, it’s fairly difficult to find a clear, chronological accounting of Bible software development. Wikipedia, of course, has some of the major applications organized by operating system, but it doesn’t include release dates or offer much commentary on how they fit together.

UPDATE: Initially this post had a graphic timeline and some commentary on the major waves of development, but it was far too incomplete. I’ve since converted this to a chronological list that should be a bit more complete.

Major Events and Releases

Academic Inquiry (1950s onward)

  • 1957 – The world’s first computer generated concordance for the RSV by John Ellison
  • 1963 – Andrew Morton’s use of computational models to challenge Paul’s authorship
  • 1920 – Yehuda Ridday’s analysis of Isaiah, concluding that there were at least three authors
  • 1971 – Transcribed Leningrad Codex (Francis Andersen)
  • 1976 – Launch of the GRAMCORD project (D. A. Carson, Indiana University, Trinity International University)

Desktop Era (1980s onward)

  • First Commerical Application
    • 1982 – Verse Search – First commercial Bible app (“THE WORD processor” family, Kent Ochel and Bert Brown, Bible Research Systems, Georgetown, TX)
  • First Wave (1980-1987) from Bits, Bytes, & Biblical Studies
    • 1984 – The SCRIPTURE SCANNER (Michael L. Brandex, James W. Collins, W. David Jenkins, and T. Vick Livingston, Omega Software, Round Rock, TX)
    • 1985 – compuBIBLE (Delmer Hightower and Chris Epps, SASSCO, Borger, TX)
    • 1985 – Bible Search (Thomas L. Cook, Scripture Software, Orlando, FL)
    • BIBLE-ON-DISK (Logos Information Systems, Sunnyvale, CA)
    • 1985 – COMPUTER BIBLE (Computer Bibles International, Inc., Greeenville, SC)
    • 1986 – The Powerful Word (Dewey Hatley, Hatley Computer Services, Springfield, MO)
    • 1986 – EveryWord Scripture Study System (Dave Sorensen and Jay Ekstrom, Echo Solutions, Inc., Provo, UT)
    • 1986 – GodSpeed (Brian Moore, Kingdom Age Software, Plano, TX)
    • ComWord 1 (Word of God Communication, Thousand Oaks, CA)
    • Wordworker: The Accelerated New Testament (The Way International, Knoxville, OH)
    • KJV on DIALOG (DIALOG Information Retrieval Service, Palo Alto, CA)
    • COMPUTER NEW TESTAMENT (The Spiritual Source, Manorville, CA)
    • INTERNATIONAL BIBLE SOCIETY TEXT (The International Bible Society, East Brunswick, NJ)
    • VERSE BY VERSE (G.R.A.P.E., Gospel Research and Program Exchange, Keyport, WA)
    • MacBible (Encycloware, Ayden, NC) – from Accordance founder
    • MacConcord / MacScipture (Medina Software, Longwood, FL)
    • New Testament Concordance (Midwest Software, Farmington, MI)
    • BibleWindows
    • Bible-Reader
    • Online Bible
  • Second Wave (1987 Onward)
    • 1987 – WORDsearch (James Sneeringer, acquired by LifeWay in 2011)
    • 1988 – ThePerfectWord – Later renamed MacBible (Roy Brown, went on to found Accordance)
    • 1988 – QuickVerse (acquired by LifeWay/WORDsearch in 2011) (history) Originally called Logos Bible Processor (Craig Rairdin, Creative Computer Systems), became QuickVerse in 1989.
    • 1988 – PC Study Bible
    • 1988 – The Bible Library 1.0 (Ellis Bible Library, archive.org page) [first to use CD-ROM?]
    • 1989 – CDWord (Dallas Theological Seminary) – Sold to Logos Research Systems
    • 1991 – Logos (Bob and Dan Pritchett)
    • 1992 – BibleWorks
    • ???? – Bible Windows – Microsoft forced a name change to Biblio
    • ???? – Ask God (Integrated Systems, Kirkland, WA) – natural language input, verse output

Internet Era (1990s onward)

  • 1993 – BibleGateway.com (Nick Hengeveld at Calvin College, acquired by Zondervan/Harper in 2008)
  • 1993 – Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) (Harry Plantinga, Wheaton College now Calvin College)
  • 1994 – Sword Searcher (first called Bible Assistant, Brandon Staggs, StudyLamp Software LLC)
  • 1994 – Accordance (Roy Brown, OakTree Software)
  • 1995 – Epiphany Bible Explorer (acquired by WORDsearch in 2004, become the foundation of WORDsearch 7, 2005)
  • 1996 – BlueLetterBible
  • 1997 – The Message for Apple Newton MessagePad (David Fedor, Servant Software). In 1998, David released Scripture for Palm OS, which was purchased by Laridian in 1999 and renamed MyBible.
  • 1997 – World English Bible (WEB) (Michael Johnson)
  • 1997 – Theophilos (Ivan Jurik of Bratislava, Slovakia, acquired by Laridian)
  • 1998 – OliveTree BibleReader (Drew Haninger, acquired by Zondervan/Harper 2014)
  • 1998 – Laridian launches PalmBible, forced by Palm, Inc. to remove “Palm” from name. Relaunched in 2000 as “PocketBible” on Microsoft’s PocketPC.
  • 1998 – SWORD Project (Troy A. Griffitts)
  • 1999 – iLumina (closed by Tyndale)
  • 2000 – e-Sword (Rick Meyers)
  • 2000 – New English Translation (NET) (professors from the Evangelical Theological Society, iLumina website)
  • 2001 – Digital Bible Society‘s first Treasures Library sent to China
  • 2001 – Zondervan Bible Study Library/PRADIS (closed in 2011)

Mobile Era (2000 onward)

Please add your thoughts and additional details to the comments.

Certainty vs. Risk – Why We Value Handwritten Notes and “Craft” Beer More than Texts and Budwieser

*disclaimer: I don’t really like beer.

Risk and Certainty

In 1968, David Pye, then a professor at Royal College of Art in London, wrote a book called The Nature and Art of Workmanship in which he distinguished between two modes of craftsmanship.

  • The craftsmanship of risk
  • The craftsmanship of certainty

For example, writing with a pen and paper falls under the category of risk because there are many potential points of device and human failure (poor handwriting, etc.). In contrast, pressing the print button on a computer produces an infinitely replicable result with identical fonts. Similar comparisons could be made with any handmade item which has a high degree of risk compared with a mass produced or 3D printed items.

Risk and Creativity

The point of Pye’s categories is not that mass-produced items have no value or are inherently inferior. On the contrary, they often save us money and give us security and stability.  Instead he is saying that the reason we tend to be attracted to handmade things is not merely that they are handmade or unique, but because in being handmade, we intuitively sense that they are imbued with the risk of their creator took. Handwritten notes, locally brewed beer and coffee, a child’s painting, or a quilt purchased from an Etsy artist all bear – to varying degrees – that essential quality of risk that grounds the objects and experiences more deeply in reality.

That’s not to say that texts can’t communicate deeply, or that reproductions of art don’t have the capacity to shape the soul, or even that a mass-produced drink can’t nourish the body. It’s merely to give us language – risk vs. certainty – to describe why we tend to feel a connection to things with with a few flaws and why a box of letters can bring a wave of feeling that searching one’s email inbox cannot.

Sadly, marketers have realized this and started slapping “handmade” or “craft” on everything way that they used to label mass produced cookies with “old fashioned” or “homemade.” But the fact that marketers have co-opted and trivialized the idea doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the original concept.

Risk and Love

This is more obvious when we consider that our deepest, most meaningful human relationships also bear this quality of risk versus certainty. When a relationship has a degree of certainty to it, such as neighbors or co-workers, they can still be meaningful and important, but they don’t require that initial risky step that we find in romantic and friendly love.

I remember practicing and practicing that first phone call with my future wife. There was so little certainty and so much risk: Would she say yes? Would the date go well? Would it eventually end the way all the others had, or would it be worth the risk of present rejection or future pain?

More than ten years later, I’m so glad that I took the risk and dialed those 10 numbers, because it has made all the difference in my life.

Similarly when we approach new potential friends or mentors, we are taking a risky first step toward building a relationship, unsure if the result will be rejection, indifference, or something unexpectedly wonderful.

The Christian story of the world also plays on the dynamic between risk and certainty with theologians differing on how an infinitely powerful God who could create with certainty also managed to build risk into his creative work, allowing humanity to embrace or reject him. The most risky communication proposition God could make would be to allow his son to become a fragile child who would grow to be a man and experience sorrow and joy, pain and resurrection.

Imbue Your Communication with Risk

All of this is to say that to create a more meaningful life that bears the image of God, we must learn to communicate love and meaning to those around us, and to do that we must intentionally accept and even embrace risk.

That might mean writing a note every now and again, even if your handwriting is terrible.That might mean inviting people over for dinner even if your dwelling (or cooking) isn’t perfect and could invite criticism. Or it could take the form of playing a game with a group when you know you’ll lose or be terrible at it.

And at the same time, we must learn to communicate a kindness and openness to others that says it’s okay to take risks around you. You might offer needed critique at times that makes your friend’s risk even more valuable, but this must be infused with grace and cultivated over time.

When was the last time you took a risk in your relationship or creativity?

Why Referring to “Screen Time” May Not Be Helpful to You or Your Kids

Recently, I had a brief, but eye-opening interaction with one of my kids:

“Dad, can I use the iPad?”
“Sure, if you want to create something or draw for a bit, that sounds great.”
“But daaaad, I just wanna watch a show. I don’t want to do anything.”

How should I respond? Is saying, “You have 23 minutes left of ‘screen time'” a sufficient response? Are there more instructive tools can I use to help my child grow and mature?

Worries about Technology and Screens

TIME Magazine recently name the iPhone the most influential gadget of all time, and yet a recent survey found more than half of teens feel they are addicted to their smartphone. But let’s not be quick to judge just our youth. Other studies show that its actually older Americans who the ones most likely to use their phones during meals. The studies go on and on, with researchers finding that up to 33% of people feel depressed after using Facebook (everyone else is having more fun), and even simply having a screen visible during a conversation can make people feel sad and anxious.

We obviously need help navigating this new world, so what should we do with these devices that appear to be causing us so much pain and suffering?

The common response has been to regulate the amount of “screen time” or to commit to going “screen free” for periods of time. While this response can be helpful to a degree (and as a parent, it’s super easy to implement), I think it can also hide a chance for more careful and thoughtful reflection.

How “Screen Time” Became Outdated and Unhelpful

The term “screen time” was created in an earlier era when “screen” referred to just one thing – a television – and “screen time” referred to how much time we spent watching TV shows. This changed in the 1980s, when the television grew an appendage – the video game console – and “screen time” expanded from referring exclusively to passive consumption to include some form of interaction and perhaps even social participation.

In the 1990s, as personal home computers became more common, “screen time” became even more ambiguous. Families now had a “screen” that was primarily suited for new kinds of creativity, writing, drawing, video editing, 3D modeling, and information gathering.

Today the passive consumption of television, the interactive nature of game consoles, and the utility of computers have all been merged into the portable, glowing rectangles of various sizes we now use for everything from communicating with relatives to filing our taxes to recording and posting our child’s first steps. Unfortunately, screens are also use them to bully classmates, consume pornography, and falsely glamorize our lives.

With all these activities collapsed into one device, the blunt force tool of “screen time” doesn’t really do much to help us avoid the damaging uses of screens or habituate us away from the tendencies toward vapidness and self-focus that are so common on screens.

Axes for Thinking about Screens

So if  “screen time” is no longer adequate, what should we use instead? Below are several categories or axes (plural of axis, not axe :) of thinking that can help us think more deeply about how we’re using our happy little glowing rectangles.

Creation vs. Consumption – This is what my child was getting at in the opening conversation. Sometimes you just want to passively consume something, and in moderation there’s a place for that. But in that moment, I judged that we’d had enough consumption for the weekend, and I wanted to encourage my kids to find something that would express their God-given creativity rather than sit passively and consume more. However, my criteria is not “on screen” or “off screen”; rather, it’s creating (with Lego, paper, iPad, playdoh, dolls, etc.) vs. consuming (television, YouTube, etc.). “Screen time” alone would limit both indiscriminately. (Note: you can see this breakdown in Common Sense Media’s four categories of teen screen usage)

As helpful as this first axis is, alone it is just as insufficient as “screen time,” because there are certain important forms of consumption that we shouldn’t deny, but should encourage. For example, quite a bit of what we do at church (reading scripture, listening to a sermon) are good, edifying forms of consumption. And this leads us to the next axis.

Entertainment and/or Enrichment – I want my kids to avoid harmful immoral material, but I always want them to think about how something shapes them. A history book can be enriching, but it’s not always entertaining, while a LEGO Star Wars book can be quite entertaining, but not very enriching. In other words, in screen or in print, a diet of Captain Underpants and Twilight (“At least they’re reading!”) is not the same as a diet of Little House on the Prairie and The Hobbit. But notice this one has “and/or” instead of “vs.” because some works like The Hobbit are both entertaining and enriching at the same time. (You might also use “edifying”)

Individual vs. Near Social vs. Distant Social – Screens can be used just by one person or by a group to do something together, but neither is necessarily positive or negative by itself. For example, when I read the Bible for personal devotion, whether its print or on a screen, it’s very much an individual activity and still a good one. Conversely, when I play a video game with my kids, we usually play cooperative games which have at least some social significance (that said gazing at a screen together is different than gazing at one another across a board game). We can also further delineate social activities to consider if they are with those physically near us (playing Risk on a tablet) or with those far away on another device (video chat).  The point is that individual activities are not necessarily bad and social activities aren’t always amazingly deep, but learning to recognize the difference can help us grow in our decision making and avoid either/or thinking about screens.

Bonus Categories

The three above are probably a great start for helping us and our kids think more clearly about the place of screens in our lives, but I’ll offer a few more just in case it helps.

Outward vs. Inward – This category is designed to help us consider whether we are using social media to promote ourselves vs. actually interact, uplift, and encourage others.  It’s easy to put Instagram in the “social” category above, but I often find myself using tools like Instagram to try to direct others toward me, rather than build them up. This category can also help us think about how screen use affects those physically around us. Recently, when I got home from work, I opened my computer to work on a plan to build a treehouse for my kids. This is creative (not consumptive) screen use that is “outwardly” focused, but I discovered that my screen usage was communicating that I didn’t want to help my wife with dinner or play with my kids during a prime time. One can’t always avoid this – work and taxes sometimes call – which makes this one of the trickiest categories, but it also gives us another tool to think about our screens more deeply.

Movement/Body vs. Stationary/Mind – This weekend I let son use my laptop to write something while my daughter and I went for a jog and recorded it with a phone. The first was a stationary activity of the mind, the second had movement and bodies. One of the potential dangers of using any media, whether creating or consuming, entertaining or enriching, is that we forget that being human means having both a mind and body. Our world of screens and pages tends to focus on us on our minds, so we need to compensate and reclaim our bodies (even if we use a screen as part of the physical activity).

Evaluating Screen Activities

So let’s see how various activities might fall on the scales above.

  • Playing Angry Birds/Watching YouTube
    consumption, entertainment, individual, inward, stationary
  • Letting child use the Peppa Pig painting app
    creationentertainment, individual, inward, stationary
  • Listening to a podcast while running
    consumption, enrichment (maybe), individual or social, inward, body and mind
  • Reading a Bible app with kids
    consumption, edifying/entertainment, near social, outward, mind
  • Reading Macrumors.com on a phone in the bathroom
    consumption, entertainment, individual, inward, mind
  • Scanning through Instagram feed
    consumption, entertainment, individual or distant social, inward, mental
  • Using Facebook to find things going on in people’s life to talk/pray about
    consumption, enrichment, distant social, outward, mind
    (I’ve successfully done this about 1 in every 38,000 times I’ve used Facebook)
  • Looking up a recipe for dinner and making it
    creative, enrichment, individual or near social, outward, moving/body

So Let’s Retire “Screen Time”

I hope these categories and examples demonstrates that teaching our kids that “screen time is bad and should be limited” while “anything other than screens is good and unlimited” doesn’t really help them navigate today’s world.

Certainly, there are times when we need to unplug, disconnect, live in the moment, and hide the phone. But as screens become more and more ever present, we adults and the children in our care need to learn more complex forms of discernment.

I hope you find at least one of these axes useful and that you add your own (near vs. far?) as you think through how to flourish in this world, appreciating the wonderful tools at our disposal, while constantly evaluating how they shape us as we use them.