Saturday, February 25, 2017

7.2 Voltage Reference

This is the second section of Module 7 in the Navy Basic Electricity and Electronics series, a module on parallel circuits. The first section was:

7.1 Solving Complex Circuits

1. This section largely looked at the difference in voltage depending on where you are measuring that difference in a circuit. Here I'm reminded of a distinction that was made earlier in the series. Technically, voltage is not the same as the electromotive force coming out of the battery. Voltage is a difference in potential.

So close to the negative post of a battery you have more electrons than you have at the positive post of a battery. The difference is the volts. Positive voltage means that the point we are measuring has fewer negative charges than the point to which we are measuring.

2. Some circuit components require "negative voltage," so circuits can be designed to supply both negative and positive voltages. Both of course have the same "zap," but one involves more electrons than the other.
symbol for ground

3. A ground is when part of the circuit runs through, say, the chassis of a car. The symbol for a ground is at the right.

Sometimes a ground doesn't complete a circuit but is a reference point. You can then measure different voltages between this point and other parts of the circuit.

The symbol for a connection to a chassis, perhaps used as a reference
Chassis ground
point is to the left.

4. A telegraph operated with a single wire over long distances, grounded at both ends. The sending telegraph connected the circuit for a short or longer moment, the ground completing the circuit on both ends, standing for a dot or a dash.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Seminary PL35: Leading Meetings

This is the fourth post on church administration in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the thirty-fifth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post was on project management. This on is on leading meetings.
1. I have often said that only people who do not like meetings should lead meetings. Meetings that go on and on without accomplishing anything are torturous to many and probably a waste of people's time.

Of course, if it's fellowship you're going for, then that is a valuable purpose. But you have to wonder if there are better ways to accomplish it. Church board meetings often take place on a weeknight after people have had a full day's work. It's unlikely that most people are looking for hours and hours of time given where nothing is accomplished.

Different people also have different personalities. An extrovert may thrive on lots of personal interaction in a business meeting while the introverts are suffering in silence and the task-oriented personalities are going crazy. In most cases, meetings for fellowship should be kept separate from meetings meant to accomplish things.

2. Again, some people love to schedule meetings. But in an organization, a meeting that does not accomplish anything or move toward accomplishing something robs the organization of time that could have been spent accomplishing something. If you do not have any business, cancel the meeting. Most people will thank you.

The leader calling a meeting can forget that the other people may not be as invested or focused on the domain of that meeting as he or she is. The people in the room may be sitting there dreaming of all the other things they need to do while the oblivious leader of the meeting is obsessed with his or her world. Again, this will be perceived as a waste of time.

3. So there are ad hoc meetings that are called to address a specific task or purpose and there are regularly scheduled meetings. A specially called meeting can help bring the right people into a room to address a specific concern or project. In such cases, you want the right people in the room--the people with the best ideas and the people who are in a position to get something done. You'll have to use your judgment on people who might be offended if they are not invited or consulted.

A friend of mine once said, "If there are more than six people in the room, then the decision is being made elsewhere." Groups of a certain size are not well-suited to formulate plans or draft policies. In most cases, some smaller group will have come together to draft a proposal that is then only modified in a larger context. A church board or organization's board should thus not be too big, unless smaller committees are doing the heavy lifting and the larger board is only amending or ratifying the proposals drafted elsewhere. Ten is a round number.

4. Regularly scheduled meetings ensure that the normal operations of the church or organization are moving forward. Sometimes such meetings serve as a check in, a time to report and keep the different members connected. Again, such sharing can get out of hand, but keeping connected as a team is a significant function. Sometimes the function of such meetings is to keep the boss informed of what the organization is actually doing, what its successes and problems are.

I have been on several committees where the purpose was not so much to make decisions but to keep communication flowing between separate parts of the organization. For example, I am on a "coordinating council" whose current purpose is to keep the three different ministry units of the university aware of what the other units are doing, even though they are organizationally separate from each other. At one time I was on a council whose main purpose, I thought, was to keep the Provost of the university informed about what all the different academic units of the school were doing, although occasionally to seek advice. So there are other legitimate purposes for a meeting, not only to make decisions.

5. An agenda should be sent out before a meeting, and then minutes should be kept of the meeting. Minutes are a record especially of the motions and votes taken at a meeting, perhaps including who made motions and who seconded them. A person is usually elected or designated as a secretary to keep the minutes. They can be more or less detailed. Some items can be left out of the minutes or only referred to obliquely, if they are sensitive. The most important aspects of minutes are the motions and decisions made.

A typical agenda consists of:
  • Opening prayer
  • Approval of minutes
  • Reports
  • Old Business
  • New Business
  • Adjournment
A good leader of a meeting (the "chair" of the meeting) will try not to let things get bogged down at any one point. Some people like to talk, for example. Others probably do not talk enough. I knew one group that had a stuffed animal that you held if you were speaking. Then someone else could take it away from you if you went on too long. I personally felt that approach was unnecessarily demeaning, but it seemed to work for that group.

Reports can especially sap a lot of time. You might ideally then distribute them before the meeting so that they only need to be summarized at meeting time. Getting materials to a committee several days in advance is extremely helpful in minimizing the actual amount of time you need to spend on matters when you are together.

Assigning time limits to each part of the agenda is especially helpful in moving the meeting along.

6. If you get bogged down at some point of the agenda, you will need to make some decisions. What really needs to get done at this meeting for the organization to move forward? What can wait for the next meeting? You might arrange the schedule to get a number of small tasks done quickly so that the remainder of time can be given to a larger item.

There is one meeting I go to where I know I will be deferred to the next meeting if we hit any snag with my proposals. I would say that the leader of the meeting has an internal clock and if I don't have my ducks in a row, I will get postponed. I would say that is the sign of a good leader of a meeting.

Old business is of course business carried over from a previous meeting. Usually you will address such matters first, but it is generally the prerogative of the person leading the meeting to order the agenda in such a way that the most urgent items get taken care of. New business is of course business being introduced for the first time.

Many meetings last an hour, a nice duration. Many others go an hour and a half or two hours. The more important the meeting, the more appropriate for it to go a little longer. But meetings shouldn't waste people's time.

The chair of a meeting usually does not participate in the debate but serves to make sure it runs smoothly and that the proper rules are followed. If a chair wishes to participate in debate, he or she might ask someone else to chair the meeting or might relinquish the chair for a brief period of time. The goal of a chair should be to be objective, like a judge.

7. It is conventional to use Robert's Rules of Order as the basis for running a meeting because they provide a framework for maintaining order. Otherwise, especially when there is disagreement, a meeting can descend into chaos. Many organizations have "by-laws" or "standing rules" for the way they conduct business. Often one of these by-laws will state that Robert's Rules of Order serve as the basis for how business is conducted. These rules are also called, "parliamentary law."

Of course some personalities can go overboard. It's almost comical, but also quite frustrating, when debates over parliamentary law erupt in the middle of a meeting. In such cases, an organization sometimes has a "parliamentarian" to give a ruling on who is in the right. Process oriented people can especially get obsessed with the way things are done and lose sight of what you are trying to get done.

It should go without saying that the goal is the goal, not the process to get there. Good practice in process serves the purpose of getting to goals smoothly with everyone on board and with proper ethics observed. Obsession on process that goes beyond moving toward the goal smoothly and ethically is just plain unhelpful, perhaps even neurotic.

8. Parliamentary law follows the pattern of 1) motion, 2) second, 3) discussion, and 4) vote. The idea of a "second" is that more than one person has considered the idea worthy of discussion. "Seconding" a motion does not necessarily mean you will vote for it. In fact, you do not have to vote for something even if you motioned it. Something can be worthy of discussion even if it is voted down in the end. Motions that come from another committee are considered already to have been seconded.

Usually you do not discuss a motion until it has been seconded, but common sense is in order. If you know you are going to discuss and vote on something, then taking the motion and a second is a bit of a formality. Remember, the purpose of the rules is to get you to the goal. Man was not made for parliamentary law, but parliamentary law for man.

Most votes require a majority vote, and you need to have a quorum for the vote to count. A quorum usually means that one more than 50% of the voting members are present at the meeting. If it is an important issue with strong feelings and a divided committee, it is most ethical to defer consideration until a substantial number of the committee are present. However, if appropriate notice has been given and the meeting is normally scheduled, then any decisions technically stand. [1]

9. There are some subsidiary motions that are sometimes used in more formal settings. Here are just a few:
  • If discussion is dragging on and on, such that the discussion has reached a kind of stalemate, you can "move the previous question" in order to end debate. Simply saying these words does not end debate. You need a two-thirds vote to end debate. The motion is not subject to discussion but must be taken immediately. If two-thirds vote in favor of ending debate, then you must then immediately take a vote on the motion that had been under consideration.
  • The motion to table a motion means that the topic will go away indefinitely until someone moves to take off the table that item. Both motions require a simple majority vote. Neither of these motions is debatable. A vote on whether to table or take from the table should be taken immediately. [2]
  • You can move to amend a motion. That motion must be seconded. Then you discuss the amendment and vote on it. It is common for people to get lost in what you are voting on. Good leaders usually then clarify, "We are voting on the proposed amendment now, not the original motion."
  • A point of order is when someone wants to point out that the process has somehow gotten off track. A point of clarification or information asks for the leader to clarify what's going on.
  • Other motions include to postpone, to refer to committee, to call for a "division of the house" (that is, to count the votes rather than simply go on the impression of a voice vote), to "reconsider" something already voted down (someone who voted for the motion needs to make this motion), to have a "point of personal privilege," to appeal the chair's decision, and to "divide the motion" into parts to be considered separately.
Here's an online "cheat sheet" for Robert's Rules. Many of these rules are unnecessary for a smaller, less formal situation where everyone is on the same page. For example, if everyone is ready to adjourn, taking a vote seems a bit overkill. Similarly, most will be in complete agreement to "postpone" an item to the next meeting. Why waste time taking a vote? However, if in doubt, do it right.

10. A colleague of mine tells a story from Wesleyan Church history to impress on students the value of knowing parliamentary law. In the 1970s, there had been a study committee to explore a merger between The Wesleyan Church and the Free Methodist Church. The committee recommended merger.

But at the general conference, the crafty general superintendent asked for a motion to "receive" the recommendation with heart felt thanks, not to "adopt" the recommendation. A motion to receive was made, seconded, and the majority of the body voted to "receive" it. I personally left the conference thinking that we had just merged denominations.

But they had only voted more or less to thank the committee for their work. No motion to adopt the recommendation had taken place, and the two churches remain separate to this day.

Next Week: Pastor as a Leader 36: Risk Management

[1] Although see the motion to "reconsider."

[2] I heard a story recently about a motion that had been tabled, but a certain group was so insistent that it be killed that they voted to take it off the table. The motion then went on to be passed. If they had just left it alone on the table, it might have never been brought up again. :-)

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management
Conflict Management
Church Administration

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

11. Security Corps

Joseph Goebbels
The review continues of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer. My reviews of the first eleven chapters were:
1. In this chapter we see the team of crazies that surrounded Hitler as they began to come together. We also see how he steadily took control of the National Socialist Party and how he put in place the SS (security corps), his personal bully squads.

The title of the chapter is "Few Flames Burn in Germany," It comes from a quote by one of Hitler's key circle, Joseph Goebbels, who believed that there were only few really great men in Germany, one of which, of course, was himself.

Goebbels was a key player in Hitler's taking power over the National Socialist party. He had actually been the right hand man of Hitler's main opposition in the party, Gregor Strasser. Ironically, Goebbels had a disability, a crippled foot. It is ironic because of the way the Nazis would go on to treat those with disabilities. Goebbels tried to pass off his disability as a result of fighting in the Great War, something that was patently false. When Goebbels switched sides from Strasser to Hitler, that perhaps marked a turning point in Hitler's control over the National Socialist party.

2. It was during the late 1920s that Hitler would retreat to property owned by his half-sister in the southeast of the country, Berechtesgaden. It was also during this time that Hitler wrote his two-volume work, Mein Kampf ("my struggle"). "The keynote of the book is the noisy style which signifies: Be silent, you others, I alone am right; disappear, I am the only one who matters" (283).

"In the whole book hardly a single actual fact is related tangibly and credibly" (284). Here is the fake news from another time. They create "a whole school which falsifies facts and calls the result higher truth." Hitler more or less controlled the party media, another key to his success. Goebbels would write lots of fake news for the paper in the late 20s, made up stories of his own heroism. Jews were often the fabricated enemy in these stories, out to destroy him.

Goebbels would be in charge of propaganda.

3. As he tried to solidify his place in the National Socialist party, Hitler sided with whomever he needed to. While others sided with the grass roots people, Hitler sided with the upper class who were affording him what little funding he had. "We stand for the maintenance of private property," he said when he needed the leaders of capital on his side. And yet at the same time "We are at odds against the old bourgeois world." "The movement against the princes is a Jewish swindle" and yet the Jews were the bankers trying to take over the world.

"Step by step, the party became Hitler's property" (291). And when he had control, "the Nationalist Socialist Party ceased to be a democratic party" (292). Now Hitler would appoint all those down the line and there would be no elections for his leadership. His powers over the party are very substantial and will not be questioned.

4. Interestingly, there were a number in the National Socialist group who were openly homosexual (Hitler's old friend Röhm, Zentner, Heines with the SA, Bäumler). They argued that the superior person was the male who was not distracted by women and referenced Alexander the Great, Frederick the Great, Caesar, and others, along with Plato's Symposium. They would eventually meet a similar fate to the Jews. But for a time they formed a significant subgroup of the National Socialists.

5. Hitler was immensely afraid in this period of doing anything illegal. He didn't want to be kicked out of Germany as an Austrian. He wanted to take over Germany legally now. In 1928, the Nazis had twelve people in parliament, including Hermann Göring, who returned from abroad during a time of amnesty.

Hitler provoked quarrels among his lieutenants. He set up a kind of party court to process accusations within the party. But to outsiders all Nazis were innocent. "If a party member was proved guilty of private immorality, dishonest business conduct, exploitation of employees," the formula was, "Well, what of it?" (302). The party had no time for squabbling over personal morals.

Within the storm troopers, the SA, or perhaps to take their place, Hitler set up the S.S., the security corps. "My honor is loyalty" was their motto, and they had to purchase their own uniforms. "A small band of the best and most determined is far more valuable than a large mass of camp followers" (304).

The SS were "chosen average men in positions of mastery" (308). They were merely "good material." "The good material does not discuss, but only obeys and commands" (309).

6. It is at this point that Heinrich Himmler also joins the scene. He is not brilliant but he is industrious, precise, and thorough. "Himmler is an excellent example of what a task can make of a man. He had a task of the first order to solve, and the task made him" (306). "He is a wire activated by the electric current, connecting important parts." He has a certain frightful detached objectivity. He can bring about the most grisly of horrors because he is merely accomplishing a task in a precise and thorough way.

"It is a quality inherent in a body of men working for a common purpose that great results can be achieved by the men who are not great." Hitler remarked, "the strength of a political party lies, not in having single adherents of outstanding intelligence, but in disciplined obedience."

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Paul 8

I probably will remove and edit these installments of the Paul novel as each chapter finishes. For the moment, here is the end of the first chapter.
Chapter 2
It was some thirteen years later that Saul and Barnabas embarked on their mission to Cyprus. It was during that mission that "Saul" started going by "Paul," even though he had that name from the first year of his life. It started one day when Sergius Paulus called him "Paul."

"Why not go by your real name?" he teased.

That night in a dream the Lord said to him, "Yes, Paul, with this name you will be my apostle to the Gentiles."

The mission team had originally planned to return straight to Antioch after they had preached on the island of Cyprus. But Paul was now thinking much bigger. If the door was open to Gentiles, then the good news needed to be preached throughout the whole world as quickly as possible. After all, Jesus might return any day to be king of the world. So the church needed to get moving a whole lot faster than they were. Just think of how many people were without hope if they did not hear!

Paul sensed the tug of the Holy Spirit northward from Cyprus, to Galatia. As always, Barnabas listened patiently and thoughtfully to Paul's change of plans. If they needed more resources, Paul said, they could merely run over to his home city in Tarsus.

Paul's family was rich compared to most people in the Roman world. In 64BC, when the Roman general Pompey had intervened in the politics of Jerusalem, he had forced Paul's great grandfather into service making tents and other leather goods for him. Pompey dragged him north to Cilicia during his battle with the pirates of the area.

As unpleasant as it was, his great-grandfather was granted Roman citizenship as a result, and his family became very prosperous in the years to come. So Paul was born Gnaeus Pompeius Paulus. At home, he was not accustomed to working with his own hands. He was used to bossing others around to do that.

Paul had spent about eight years back in his home country of Cilicia after Jesus appeared to him...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Riddles of Hebrews

I was honored to be part of a panel at the regional SBL at St. Mary's College in South Bend along with Amy Peeler, Jason Whitlark, Jared Callaway, and Clare Rothschild, with Eric Mason giving an overall response. Brian Small moderated. I felt like we were being invited to indulge a little in the sin of speculation, so I did. My whole 15 minute response is on

Why Hebrews?
The central exhortation of Hebrews, repeated over and over, is that the audience needs to "hold fast" and persist in faith.

What's causing the hesitation?
While there are probably multiple factors, the exhortation to hold fast is most centrally supported by the author's central argument, which is that Christ's atonement is sufficient. So,
  • Something has caused them to doubt that atonement for their sins is secure.
  • They are also fearing impending persecution and hardship for their faith.
What might cause them to doubt atonement and fear impending persecution?
  • destruction of the temple
  • hard to think of what might cause this prior to temple's destruction, since even expulsion from the synagogue would not clearly imply that the temple was not effective for them
  • There is language of place alienation--"we have here no remaining city," "they are strangers and aliens," "they are seeking a homeland," "a city," "go outside the camp." Rome and Jerusalem are the two cities that come to mind, perhaps both. If Jerusalem were in mind, its destruction would fit this language.
When was it written?
  • If written before 70, it is a strong polemic against the temple. But the central argument of Hebrews does not argue not to utilize the "tabernacle."
  • If written soon after 70, it is a strategy to help them not to be troubled by the destruction of the temple.
  • 2:3 seems to imply a second generation, post-Paul Christian author
  • Hebrews seems like a post-Pauline development, one step further
  • Mention of Timothy suggests it can't be too late, as does its quotation by Clement
  • Can't be said definitively, but Rome commands the most support: "those from Italy greet you," reception history in Rome versus east, quotation by Clement of Rome
  • Leaders have died in a previous persecution, property taken--we don't know much of the early church, but this fits Rome.
  • Timothy was in Ephesus recently, perhaps written from Ephesus, although this is really speculation.
  • 6:2-3 doesn't have a list that a Jewish audience would have learned upon coming to Christ. But it would be appropriate for Gentiles.
  • An argument can be made that the Roman church was primarily Gentile and that it was more in continuity with Jerusalem Christianity than Pauline.
  • The unargued incorporation of Gentiles within the seed of Abraham, the universality of Psalm 8, may suggest more a Gentile than Jewish audience. To say such things to Jews would be quite exclusive of Gentiles, but Hebrews does not have that feel.
Type of Literature?
  • A mailed sermon
  • A he (11:32)
  • Greek-speaking, highly educated, probably a Jew
  • Someone well aware of the Pauline school and the Jewish Scriptures
  • A cumulative case of superficial similarities to Philo's writings would fit an Apollos, although we cannot know.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

10. Germany's Return from Despair

Chapter 11 today. I've been reading Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer. My reviews of the first ten chapters were:
1. 1925 was a year of recovery for Germany. For a while, things were going too well for Hitler to gain traction. He got out of prison in December, 1924. It was a far shorter time than his sentence should have been, but he had sympathetic--or perhaps guilt ridden acquaintances in the Bavarian leadership. They wanted to have nothing to do with him when he got out, though, for his instigation of the coup attempt.

Hitler hoped for a time when the economy might fall out and he might find once again an ear for his fiery rhetoric.

In the meantime, his strategy was, "Be simple, be primitive, be brutal!"

I recognize rhetorical genius here. Complexity loses when you are trying to convince a large group of people. The current president won using simple slogans like "Crooked Hillary," "Lying Ted," and "Lock her up," which he repeated over and over again. Such slogans overwrite detailed arguments or reasoning.

"In propaganda the same thing must be repeated indefatigably" (256).

2. Hitler knew that to gain momentum among the masses, he needed to find an enemy that was a kind of person and an ideological cause. For Hitler, the type of person was the Jew. The cause was communism. Right now in America, it is the Muslim and the liberal (e.g., "elite liberal media"). All Muslims are lumped together as terrorists and anyone who objects to the president's agenda is called a liberal, even though both of these notions are patently false.

Again, Hitler cleverly realized that "By one enemy, if necessary, many can be meant" (257). In other words, the key was the label, not the substance. You throw all your enemies into the title. The key is not whether it is true but whether you can get the labels to stick.

Hitler also recognized that you can't take on every enemy at once. Take the Catholic Church. Hitler saw it as an enemy, but he knew not to take it on at first. Reserve it for later. So the person rising to authoritarian power sometimes allies with a group that he or she then may turn on once in power.

3. There was a wave of authoritarianism and conservatism sweeping Europe in the 20s. Mussolini had taken over in Italy. A dictator took over in Poland. Spain had a dictator. "An ideal was extinguished which had shone for a century; the association of national freedom with the immortal human rights of the American and French revolutions" (271).

Meanwhile Hitler had his work cut out for him. He had "to convince the masses that they were doing badly while actually they were getting along fairly well." It is easy to compare ourselves with where we might be. It is harder to recognize how things could be worse. The grass is always greener on the other side, even though it usually isn't.

4. A couple quotes to end the chapter:
  • Hitler took any statement of fact as a criticism. (251)
  • "Reason can treacherously deceive a man, emotion is sure and never leaves him." Hitler (255).

Monday, February 06, 2017

Monday Paul 7

from last week
After he received the letter from Pilate to Flaccus, Saul began the journey of about a week from Jerusalem to Damascus. He started by going down to Jericho. He had spent enough time spying out these Jesus-followers, that their stories filled his head.

So on the way to Jericho, he thought of that story about a man who was mugged on his way to Jericho, and how a Samaritan helped him along the way. He hated that story. Filthy Samaritan. The priest or Levite should have been the hero. But deep down he knew that as a Pharisee, he wouldn't have stopped to help the man either. It would have made him unclean. It repulsed him that Jesus made this ill-bred Samaritan with a skewed religion the hero of the story.

At the Jordan River, just north of the Dead Sea, he headed north. Here he saw the place where John the Baptist had baptized, the place where Jesus was baptized. He liked the call to repentance--at least calling other people to repent--but for him it should have been a call to keep the Law. On the other hand, he had never felt like he really needed to repent much, because he kept the Law so perfectly.

Three days later they reached the Sea of Galilee. Here he remembered stories of Jesus calming storms and calling followers. Jesus' followers believed that he had appeared to Peter here after his death. Preposterous, although Saul did believe in resurrection. He believed strongly in the resurrection of the righteous out of the grave when God restored the world. But it was supposed to happen all at once, not just one person out of order.

It took three more days to get to Damascus from the Sea of Galilee. Damascus had featured prominently in one of the founding documents of the Essene community, their "Covenant of Damascus." Some Essenes took the scroll literally and thought that the Messiah would establish his rule there. Saul had heard that at least one of Jesus' disciples, a particularly zealous one named Simon, had launched a mission in that area.

But the whole time he had this gnawing question inside. Could he be wrong about Jesus? It was hard to argue with the reports of miracles. Stephen had died with such confidence. How did Philip escape him so easily? What if God turned out to be gracious and compassionate, full of mercy. Isn't that even what Jonah and other passages said?

As they neared the city of Damascus, Saul suddenly was blinded by a bright light. He heard a voice: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He answered by asking, "Who are you, Lord?" But he knew the answer. It was Jesus. All his inner fears were released and he knew. He had been on the wrong side all along. Jesus in fact was the Lord!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

9. Prophecies of the Antichrist

Chapter 10 gives backstory. The next chapter of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer, is called "Interlude." My reviews of the first nine chapters were:
1. In this chapter, Heiden interrupts the flow of the story to go back and give some of the German backstory. Good approach, not to begin with this material, as we might have become bored before we came to the story. But his style does ask us to live with partial glimpses that he only fills in later.

The thread of the chapter, it seems to me, is Napoleon, Hegel, Wagner, Marx, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Chamberlain.

2. Heiden argues that the single greatest event of German history was Napolean's (1769-1821) breaking of the thousand year German empire and its restructuring into its modern sub-states. "Napoleon I brought to Germany the idea of democratic Caesarism, of the conspirator who makes himself tyrant by the abuse of democracy" (213). He may defeat the Holy Roman Empire, but there is something enamoring about him. Many of the German states switch to his side.

"From France, Germany learned the secret of the new patriotism: organized freedom" (214). Napoleon does not want to rule France, Fichte (1762-1814) said. Napoleon must rule the world. And if he cannot be ruler of the world, he does not want to exist.

"Oppressed Germany admired her oppressor and almost forgave the tyrant his tyranny because of its immensity" (215). "Napoleon became the embodiment of human Titanism, a demigod who had set out to build the Tower of Babel, a hero, a model of intellect and will."

3. This was the genesis of destruction for Germany, Heiden believes, a change of direction. The idealists before Napoleon--Kant (1724-1804), Goethe (1749-1832), Schiller (1759-1805), Fichte--were great believers in liberty and the equality of all human beings. They believed in equality by virtue of education. This liberal, optimistic view of humanity would steer in a somewhat darker direction after Napoleon.

4. So Hegel (1770-1831) still sees history moving in a clear direction, but we probably cannot say that it is necessarily a better one. Hegel has witnessed Napoleon riding into Jena. When he sees Napoleon, "he felt as though he had seen the 'world spirit on horseback'" (213). What is the world spirit? It is the direction in which history is headed. For Hegel, history is the unfolding of an evolving world spirit, which manifests itself supremely in the state.

The French Revolution had proclaimed the rights of humanity. But this right channeled itself in Germany into the right of man to have his own nationality. Germans have a right to have a German nation. Germany had reached a point of pride in its intellectual history. It reached back into the Norse legends to find its own destiny.

"In 1848, the Nationalist Movement of the German intellectuals flared into revolution. The best brains in the land assembled in Saint Paul's Church in Frankfort on the Main, to found a German Reich and give it a democratic constitution; a minority demanded a republic. The princes were helpless, for a time even intimidated by bloody uprisings in Berlin, Vienna, and other cities; reactionary ministers were driven from the country; the people seemed victorious" (219).

5. Richard Wagner (1813-83) road the wave of these times. In May of 1849, as the revolution was playing out, he climbed on the steeple of the Church of the Cross in Dresden, dropping notes about troop movements to those below. The Prussians were marching on the city to quell the rebellion against authority. That morning, he had snuck into the Prussian camp and passed out leaflets to the soon to be advancing soldiers, reminding them that they were all Saxons and shouldn't be fighting against each other.

When heavy shots were made toward him, he refused to get down, saying, "I am immortal!" (209). His operas would express the pure human longing for power despite chaos and disaster, singing of the movement forward of this longing without fear of bullets. "His best, or at least his most popular, music transforms the curse of power into a glamorous song; and destruction--the inevitable fate of unbridled power--resounds in it with tragic beauty. Love of overwhelming disaster--that is his haunting leitmotiv" (210).

Wagner was also extremely vocal in his anti-Semitism.

Hitler would visit the wife of the late Wagner in 1923 in Bayreuth, Bavaria. Wagner's ailing son-in-law was there, of whom we will soon speak, an Englishman named Houston Stewart Chamberlain.

6. Enter Karl Marx (1818-83). "Ever since Hegel, the entire West had been permeated by a belief in the necessary and meaningful course of history" (220). History has a trajectory. History has a destiny.

Marx turned Hegel upside down and made that destiny an economic destiny. "Economics becomes destiny" (220). After the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, the forces of "Bolshevikism" that wanted to play themselves out in Europe were the major source of fear. Fear is a powerful tool in the hands of those who want to seize power or manipulate the people. It often is more self-destructive than the supposed threat from which it means to protect.

The fear of the out of control common person brought resistance to democracy among some German intellectuals. Heinrich Heine, who had been zealous for democracy and socialism in his youth, turned on these ideals: "In their mad intoxication for equality, they would destroy everything that is beautiful and noble on earth and unleash their iconoclastic rage on art and science... The kings vanish, and with them the last poets... The barren work-a-day sentiment of the modern Puritans will spread over all Europe like a gray dusk, foreshadowing rigid winter" (221).

This is the inheritance of both the communist and the fascist alike. They both bequeath to the people a world without beauty or truth for its own sake.

7. Germany turns dark. Hegel may have set the stage for inevitable trajectories, but his contemporary, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) would sent the tone of that trajectory. For him, the center of all things is blind will, the desire, the urge. For Hegel, the movement toward world spirit was rational, a thing of the mind. For Schopenhauer, human urges and desire, human will "lay at the base of all happenings in nature, and since it could never achieve fulfillment, its existence was suffering without end" (222). "Every human life as a whole shows the qualities of a tragedy, and we see that life, in general, consists only of hopes gone astray, thwarted plans, and errors recognized too late." The great acts of history are just an accumulation of crimes and follies (223).

He was ignored during his life, but "over the succeeding generation his philosophy of death swept like a tidal wave.

8. This late eighteenth century Germany was the time of many of Wagner's operas. Wagner "took a polemical, partisan stand on all controversial issues of his time" (225). His theme is "a great epic about the decline and death of nobility in this world." "The exalted values of an earlier day perish in the rising flood of mediocrity."

This late 1800s context was a time of "constant readiness for a new war" (227). The curse of this generation was that it was a "war civilization." It is during this time that the Prussian state rises, the second German reich, so to speak. In 1866, the Prussian part of Germany waged a victorious war against the other part of Germany and called it unification (226). In 1871, the King of Prussia was crowned German Emperor.

This was the time of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). In his early days, he wrote of the Superman who lived in a realm "beyond good and evil." This leader, this Antichrist, was not distracted by those who said, "you shouldn't do this or that." For Nietzsche, Christianity was a slave morality, a philosophy invented by the weak to try to get the strong not to oppress them. But the Ubermensch invented the right and wrong that the herd of other intellectuals followed.

Ironically, Nietzsche in his later life cursed the nationalism of the Prussian reich, as well as race hatred. His work was unfortunately edited after his death to foster the kind of environment from which Hitler rose.

9. The end of the chapter focuses on Houston Chamberlain (1855-1927). He was born an Englishman, spent the first twenty-five years of his life in France, and ended his life a German. He married the daughter of Wagner, and his thinking was thoroughly Wagnerian.

His chief contribution was a book called The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, which made him world famous. King Wilhelm II of Prussia wrote, "It was God who sent your book to the German people and you personally to me" (233).

While Wagner believed that the downward course of the world could not be stopped, he believed it could be halted. The German people, because of her cultural genius, could experience a temporary regeneration. Chamberlain, coming to Germany from elsewhere, was more optimistic that a "higher race could and must be bred" (234).

For Chamberlain, race was not by blood. Humankind created race. The kinship of this kind of race was a matter of affinity and culture. "The genesis of extraordinary races is invariably preceded by a blood mixture" (235). In other words, people of different blood come together to create a master race. So for him, the Aryan race was something to be created: 1) discover good "material," 2) nature will select the fittest, 3) mix these superior individuals together, 4) breed within that group.

Chamberlain had no room for the weak. This artificial selection must not be sentimental ("slave morality"). He writes, "The exposure of sickly children was one of the most beneficent laws of the Greeks, Romans, and Teutons" (2235).

Obviously any true democracy was thus a weakness because it allowed the illegitimate to vote and have voice. Public opinion, for him, was made by idiots or malicious traitors.

10. Chamberlain was convinced that the German people were the best ones to engineer this Aryan race. Germany was best gifted to organize all political life by scientific principles. It was gifted at practical systematization at the "planned co-ordination of all the parts of every productive unit." World domination cannot come through mere power. It needs to be a new type of power, resting on intellectual and moral foundations, "a scientific policy of genius" (241).

Chamberlain, weak himself now in 1923, had almost given up hope for such a state. But his meeting with the young Hitler renewed his hope. Democracy had come too late to Germany. The treaty at the end of World War I did not seize the opportunity to set up a world democracy. As we have seen, disaffected soldiers from the war became hit squads and an underground army. Disillusionment and despair gave birth to moral chaos.

"Democracy did not act in its hour; and so the Antichrist acted" (245).

Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday Paul 6

From last week...
Saul even told them where Stephen and some others would meet in the morning on the first day of the week to celebrate the rising of this Jesus from the dead. The rough group of men stayed up all night, drinking more and more, getting more and more agitated. Then just before dawn, they headed out to the Mount of Olives and stoned Stephen to death while the others scattered. Saul watched their cloaks while the whole thing went down.

The Sanhedrin was pleased. It advanced Saul politically. Now the Sanhedrin knew they had someone they could trust to help stop this Jesus movement. They had chastised the Aramaic speaking believers, who met regularly at the temple. But it was hard to get at them because they had a lot of support and were always out in plain view. They also were fairly peaceful. Their emerging leader, James, actually preached faithfulness to the Law, and a number of Pharisees had even joined the movement.

The story was different with the Greek-speaking followers like Stephen. They were much more vocal and seditious. But soon Saul had so disrupted the Greek-speaking Jews that a good many of them left Jerusalem. For a few weeks, the Sanhedrin thought their problem was solved--until they found out that these Jesus followers were simply preaching around the Judean--even the Samaritan countryside.

For over a year Saul went around Judea, mostly as a spy, watching these followers of the Way. He would report back what they were teaching, and how many converts they made to their cause. He especially tried to follow a Hellenist named Philip, but he seemed to disappear every time Saul got close. In all this time Saul rarely saw his wife. All he could think about was his own advancement.

What he didn't realize is that the message of these believers was sinking into his subconscious. This Jesus had preached that everyone could be part of the coming kingdom. Look at how many people were joining this movement. He had enough of Gamaliel in his head to wonder if it could be of God. Was he really on the right side?

No! It couldn't be. He was a law-keeper. God commanded that all Jews keep the Law. He had spent his whole life pursuing the Law. He had kept it blamelessly. He didn't know anyone in his family or close friends who kept the Law as well as he did. He was zealous for the law like a Maccabee!

He dove into his work even harder. Three years after the beginning of the Jesus movement, in the nineteenth year of the reign of Claudius, he thought he had another break. He asked the Sanhedrin to send him to Damascus, in the Roman province of Syria, to investigate some Jesus followers from the Essene movement. He had heard they were forming an army of some sort, with one of Jesus' original followers leading them, a man named Simon.

The Sanhedrin was able to get a letter from Pontius Pilate, then in his seventh year as governor. Saul would take it to Flaccus, then the governor of Syria. This letter would allow Saul to arrest any seditious followers of the Way and bring them back to Jerusalem for examination...

Bulgaria versus Hitler

1. Quite a coincidence. National Holocaust Day on Friday. Refugee ban the same day. Bulgaria and the Holocaust in the reading today.

This week we read chapter three of The Lemon Tree for the Monday reading group. It is the true story of a Jewish and Palestinian family whose lives intersected in a house in al-Ramla in Israel. The title of the book refers to a lemon tree in a yard there, planted by the Palestinian family and then later in the yard of the Jewish family. It's complicated.

2. Bulgarian Jews were spared the Treblinka death camp because of what Sandy Tolan calls, "the fragility of goodness" (43). Individuals who were part of the fascist regime had these fragile moments of goodness where they leaked out the deportation plans. The Orthodox bishop of Bulgaria did not just go along with the deportation like the Catholic Church of Germany. Non-Jews maneuvered their way to the capital of Sofia to see complicit officials who nevertheless could see the inhumanity of what was coming.

Under pressure and seeing the winds change in Russia, the king and parliament procrastinated the deportation. They just expelled Jews from the capital. They had already managed to get some leeway with Hitler by uncomfortably joining the Axis powers. They cooperated in the killing of the Jews in Macedonia and Thrace, few if any survived. But the thin line of humanity held in Bulgaria.

Otherwise the Jewish family who came to occupy that house in al-Ramla would never have lived to see Israel.

3. There were a couple historical matters in the chapter that I found striking:
  • The Bulgarian Jews largely descended from Jews expelled from Spain when the Christians expelled them in 1492. The Ottoman Turks at that time welcomed them: "They say that Ferdinand of Spain is a wise man, but he is a fool. He takes his treasure and sends them to me" (29). So often have those nations willing to take in refugees gained some of their most loyal citizens, who have then enriched those countries with their talents.
  • Bulgaria had passed a "Law for the Defense of the Nation," a completely cooked up law that put Jews in their place in the name of protecting the true citizens of Bulgaria. If you ever see a law like this coming down the pike in America, remember your history. It would take the form of, "We need to protect ourselves from these x, y, or z. Therefore, we are going to make them register and we're going to watch these dangerous people, restrict these people."
Perhaps I will back-blog the first two chapters of the book.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Misuse of Romans 13

1. I've heard some misuses of Romans 13:1-7 in the past, and I've recently been hearing some that probably haven't seriously been used for a long time. The main two misuses I've heard recently are:
  • The use of Romans 13 to argue that almost the sole function of government is to punish criminals and restrain evildoers. (often used to argue that government shouldn't be involved with helping those in material need)
  • The rise again of a kind of "divine right" thinking. You can't disobey the king because God has installed him and given him absolute authority no matter what he does. This was really popular (among kings at least) in the 1600s. (recently revived to argue that Christians need to shut up and go along with whatever the new president might want to do)
2. So here's a translation of Romans 13:1-7:
Let every person submit themselves to higher authorities, for there isn't authority except by God and the ones that exist have been ordered by God. Thus those who oppose authority resist the command of God and those who resist will receive judgment on themselves.

For rulers are not a fear to the good deed, but to the bad deed. Do you want not to fear authority? [Then] do the good, and you will have praise from it, for it is a servant of God for you, for the good. Fear if you do the bad, for not without cause does it bear the sword, for it is a punishing servant of God leading to wrath on the one doing the evil.

Therefore, it is necessary to submit yourselves not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.

For this reason also pay taxes, for they are servants of God, attending to this very [task]. Pay your debts to them: tax to whom tax is due, custom to whom custom is due, fear to whom fear is due, honor to whom honor is due.
 3. With regard to the first misuse at the top, we can quickly dismiss the "government can only be involved in punishing criminals" view out of hand. [1] Romans 13 is not an exhaustive statement on the good those in authority can do. The Old Testament celebrates kings who take care of the needy among the people (e.g., Ps. 72) and condemns the nations who let the plight of the poor and weak go unaddressed (Ps. 82).

Romans 13 tells us one of the good functions of the highest authorities, maybe even the primary one at the time God inspired Paul to write Romans. It does not tell us all of the good that those in authority can do. And it does not prohibit governments from doing other things that are good. Silence does not imply a prohibition, or, as Wilbur Williams always says, "Absence of presence is not presence of absence."

So we will have to slog out the actual merits and detriments of specific kinds of governmental involvement in those sort of things. We can't dismiss the possibility with a proof-text. [2] We'll have to make actual arguments using our knowledge of history, political science, sociology, etc, steering those arguments on the basis of our values and theology.

4. I'm a little taken aback to hear the old "divine right" argument resurrected--submit entirely to the king because God has chosen him. I thought it only existed among some really radical hyper-Calvinist sects and only with immense inconsistency there. [3]

What I mean by inconsistency is this. I sure didn't hear a single soul saying such things when Obama was president. And I would have soundly disagreed with this thinking then too. Are we then to say that the Founding Fathers were wrong to rebel against King George?

5. As a side-note, I have actually wrestled with the question of whether the Revolutionary War was wrong on the basis of passages (note the plurality) like Romans 13. As a result, I have played out the following scenario, which I think would be biblically allowable:
  • 1) You speak truth to power--"This is inappropriate. This is wrong!" 
  • 2) The king rejects your protests, commands you to submit or face the consequences.
  • 3) You do not comply because the king is asking you to do something wrong.
  • 4) The king moves against you with force.
  • 5) You defend yourself.
Now I doubt this scenario gets all the Founding Fathers off the hook, but it might do for some. But that's a different question.

6. Now to the punch. Here are three key reasons why the divine right interpretation doesn't work:
  • 1. It takes a statement that was never meant as absolute and makes it into a philosophical proposition.
  • 2. It does not take into account the context for which God inspired Paul to write Romans.
  • 3. It is "single verse" theology, while we have to take the whole Bible into account when we are trying to appropriate a specific passage for today.
7. Most biblical instruction was written on the level of "most cases," not on the level of "there are never any exceptions to this statement in any time or place." For example, in Acts 4:19, Peter pretty much flat out tells the Sanhedrin that he's going to obey God and disobey them. Obviously, there is a time not to submit to those in authority over you. The instruction was never given on an absolute level.

8. It was common in earlier centuries to view Romans as a "compendium of Christian theology." [4] However, we now understand that Romans was not first written to give us a theology textbook. It was written 1) for Paul to introduce himself to the Romans, 2) for him to give his side of the story in terms of the bad-mouthing of his opponents, 3) for him possibly to gather support for a mission into Spain, and 4) possibly for him to address some issues he knew were in play within the Roman church itself.

So why did God inspire Paul to write Romans 13:1-7 to the Romans? We cannot fully answer this question, because we do not know all the details. This is one of the reasons why you should be careful about jumping from a single passage to today. Not only is there the possibility we have misinterpreted it, but there is also the fact that we always lack full knowledge of the context.

I personally am sympathetic to the idea that there is at least a "look good in front of the Romans" element to this passage. The Christian message was a deeply politically subversive one. After all, Paul believed that the real king, Jesus, was soon going to return and fry kings like Nero. It was good for a statement like this one to be read publicly in the churches at Rome. They didn't want another incident like the conflict of 49, when Claudius kicked the Jewish Christians from the city.

I am not in any way suggesting that this passage is not true--for me it is the starting point for how we relate to those in authority over us. We are to respect those in positions of authority and we should have a bias toward choosing to submit to them even when they are unjust or incompetent. Nevertheless, context colors the passage and how we might best appropriate it.

Paul was certainly under no misgivings about how unjust the Roman government actually was. After all, how many times had they beaten him with rods? At least three times before the time he wrote 2 Corinthians 11:25. He knew their frequent injustice when he wrote here that you don't need to fear authority when you do good. You should mainly fear them when you do wrong.

Obviously that had not always been his own experience! He had been punished unjustly by authority many times.

9. Finally, we should not appropriate any passage without taking into account the whole counsel of God. There are many models for how to engage political authorities in the Bible. Here are some:
  • Peter says to submit to authority, even when it is unrighteous (1 Peter 2-3), written during a time when God wanted accommodation and submission.
  • Peter tells authority he is not going to submit to them, because God's command conflicts with theirs (Acts 4:19).
  • Stephen speaks truth to power, implying that they are murderers (Acts 7:52). He is stoned to death.
  • Paul regrets (does he seriously not know which person is the high priest???) calling the high priest a "whitewashed wall" (Acts 23:3) because it is disrespectful to authority.
  • Moses speaks truth to power (Pharaoh) in Egypt.
  • Samuel secretly anoints David as king even though Saul is still king, a deeply seditious act.
  • David does not kill Saul when he has the chance, because Saul is God's anointed.
  • Ehud assasinates King Eglon (Judg. 3). Samson kills a mess of Philistines.
  • Elisha puts in motion a coup in which Jehu will take over the kingdom from King Ahab (2 Kings 9).
Wisdom is knowing which model is God's will for the times.

Of course there is also the question of Old Testament-New Testament. Would God really have any Christian engage in a coup today, like Jehu did? He certainly didn't go about it the right way, based on Hosea 1:4. What about Bonhoeffer's support of the plot to kill Hitler? [5] Was he wrong?

10. What time is it? That wasn't my purpose in this post. My purpose was to debunk the misuse of Romans 13 to say that governments aren't supposed to be involved in helping people or that we should just shut up and submit to whoever the "king" might happen to be.

Of course that last one wouldn't work in America anyway, because a President is not a king. Some would say that we are a government "of the people, by the people, for the people." And the power of a president is supposed to be balanced between the three branches of government. In that sense, the Constitution is more of a king than a president anyway.

[1] I wrote on this a few years ago here.

[2] A "proof-text" is when you take a single verse or passage, read it out of context, and then think that you have settled some issue without consulting the rest of Scripture.

[3] This is entirely a Calvinist, determinist argument. Wesleyan-Arminians have never believed anything like this because we believe that God grants us a good deal of freedom of will. Wesley did not think the American Methodists should revolt against the king, but his argument was not that one must always submit to the king because God has predestined everything he commands.

[4] Melanchthon in the 1500s.

[5] Some have recently denied that he did. I suspect this is wishful thinking.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

7.1 Solving Complex Circuits

You've all been waiting for Module 7 of the Navy Basic Electricity and Electronics series, especially since we finished Module 6 back in 2016. Module 7 is Combination Circuits and Voltage Dividers. The first section is "Solving Complex Circuits."

1. Complex circuits are circuits that are not entirely series or parallel, but some combination of the two. So they can also be called "combination" circuits or "series-parallel" circuits. First we review the rules for each kind of circuit.

Rules for Series Circuits
  • Current is the same throughout the circuit.
  • Voltage is additive (Kirchhoff's voltage law)--add up the voltage across each element to get the total.
  • Resistance is additive--add up the individual resistances to find the total.
  • Power is additive--add up the power used by each element to find the total
Rules for Parallel Circuits
  • Voltage is the same in every branch of the circuit.
  • Current is additive (Kirchhoff's current law)--add up the currents in each branch to get the total.
  • Total resistance is more complicated. The total resistance is always less than the smallest resistance. If the branches have equal resistances, the total will be a single resistance divided by the number of branches. If there only two branches, you can multiply the two resistances and divide by their sum. For all situations, you can add up the reciprocals of each branch resistance and then take the reciprocal of that.
  • Power is additive--add up the power in each branch to find the total.
2. You can guess that combination circuits simply play out the rules above in predictable ways. So, each branch of the overall circuit is its own little series circuit of sorts. Meanwhile, you could reduce all the branches of the circuit to what an equivalent, single element would look like in its place and suddenly you have an overall series circuit.

So you can redraw complex circuits in ways that reduce them to what equivalent, simple circuits might look like.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Monday Paul 5

From last week
They were making such head way in the Synagogue of the Freedmen that the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, sent Saul to serve as a spy of sorts, to see if he could subvert the movement.

Everything about them made him seethe inside. While he was obsessed with getting more and more Jews to follow the Law the "right" way, his way, these Hellenists were preaching that the Messiah wanted to include all Jews in the kingdom, including those who were unclean! They told stories about Jesus eating with toll collectors and associating with prostitutes.

It infuriated Saul. He could hardly listen to it. Of course he missed the fact that Jesus did not condone prostitution or cheating people. All Saul could hear is that Jesus ate with those people.

Saul was not just any Pharisee. He had cast in his lot with the School of Shammai. Sure, he had sat at the feet of Gamaliel and the School of Hillel during his early training as a Pharisee. But in the end the more militant School of Shammai was much more to his liking. The Hillelites believed in waiting around and letting God take care of things. The Shammaites believed in working alongside God by taking action. God would support a righteous cause!

There was one of these Jesus-followers in the Synagogue of the Freedman that really got under his skin. His name was Stephen. It seemed like he got bolder and bolder each Sabbath. He condemned the Jerusalem leadership in stronger and stronger terms for their part in the death of the Messiah. "They thought they had beat God. But God raised Jesus from the dead and installed him as Lord at his right hand. He will come back soon and destroy these hypocrites," he said.

Obviously the Sandhedrin was infuriated and alarmed by such rhetoric. Meanwhile, Saul was engaged in a campaign of whispers. "Blasphemers are to be stoned," he would suggest. "Don't you remember the son of the Egyptian in Leviticus, whom God commanded Israel to stone?"

Finally, after one Sabbath, one when Stephen was particularly critical of the temple leadership, several leaders in the Sanhedrin gave a secret go ahead for Saul to incite a crowd of undesirables against Stephen. Stephen had been saying things like, "Don't trust in this temple. God destroyed it once before and he could let it get destroyed again. The Sadducees and Pharisees are stiff-necked hypocrites, whom God has rejected. They preach the Law but do not follow it!"

So Paul went to meet some of the rougher characters of the Synagogue of the Freedman. He knew where they met to eat and drink after the sun went down at the Sabbath's end. "Can you believe what that Stephen said this morning? It's blasphemy against the temple, I tell you. Reminds me of the sons of Korah, how they tried to usurp the authority of Moses and Aaron. And look what happened to them! I can tell you, the Sanhedrin would not do anything if this guy just happened to get stoned to death."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Seminary PL34: Project Management

This is the third post on church administration in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the thirty-fourth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post gave a number of tips on time management as a leader, manager, or administrator. This post addresses the question of project management.
1. Project management is the orchestration of a project toward its successful completion in a certain amount of time. It thus involves 1) a certain set of outcomes, 2) an ordered timeline to achieve the steps leading to these outcomes, and 3) a mechanism to ensure this timeline is kept.

(1) Project Generation
Obviously the reason a need for project management would arise is because you have a project. In other words, we begin this entry with the assumption that someone or some group with the authority to do so has set a goal. It could be an individual--perhaps I as an individual want to write a book. It could be a leader--we want to have a fifty year anniversary gathering. It could be a department--we want to launch a new degree or have a quadrennial event.

(2) Initial Approval
2. Let us go ahead and say that the first step is approval. This may be as simple as "I'm committing as an individual to do this project." In other cases, approval may be more involved. If it is a group project that you do not have the authority to initiate, then you will surely need the approval of the other members of the group. [1]

In most organizations, there will be a more formal approval process for major projects. It could be that you only need the approval of your department. Having an affirming vote is often helpful even when it is not technically needed.

Although be wise. Do not cause yourself unnecessary trouble. An easy though unnecessary unanimous vote adds power to your project. An unnecessary vote that will detract or even derail a needed project is another thing.

I was in a church board meeting where a vote was taken on a project that may or may not have needed a vote, but it was a slightly controversial project and the pastor on the spur of the moment asked if we thought it would be helpful to take a vote. The on the spot vote was unanimous (although I suspect one or two might have gone along with hesitation) and now the pastor had a real tool whenever further questions might be asked by members of the congregation: "This was unanimously passed by the board."

On the other hand, a conflict laden vote, when such a vote is not necessary, is a judgment call. Let's say you have a small minority of "grumblers" whom you know are going to make a stink about a project even though the majority are on board and their approval is not technically needed. Will giving detractors a platform to grumble create unnecessary negative energy toward the project? At some point, it's better to move forward and let them grumble in a corner rather than give them a forum to derail a project with broad support when formal approval is not needed.

(3) Formal Proposal
3. After you have achieved the necessary approvals, the next step is often putting together an official proposal. In many cases, a good deal of preliminary or hypothetical planning will have been necessary as part of the approval process. Who are the stakeholders who need to be consulted? What resources are necessary to achieve the project? A pro forma is a financial prospectus that determines whether a new venture is financially sustainable, often for the next three to five years.

Let's say your church currently does not have any discipleship program of any kind. No Sunday School, no Sunday night services, no small groups. So let's say you have a burden to start some. At some point you will want buy in from your church board and congregation. If you know you are going to get green lights readily, it's best to let them know you are thinking about, say, introducing small groups at the front end. Generate enthusiasm and anticipation.

On the other hand, if you are going to face opposition--or if you know that the wrong people will try to hijack or dominate the planning or process--you may want to have a proposal more developed before you begin talking about it. For example, you may want to have a task force group lined up with people you know are more likely to generate the best ideas before you open the door for just anyone to volunteer. A task force is a somewhat ad hoc group (that is, not a formal group in your organizational chart or structure) created to address some task.

4. So let's say your project is to create a series of small groups for the discipleship of your congregation. Let's say you have the needed approvals to put a proposal together. Now you need to plan enough to get the proposal approved.

What people need to be involved to come up with the best plan? Some people may have to be involved because of the positions they have in the church. Ideally, you want the best idea generators. Unfortunately, sometimes they are not the people with the official positions. If for some reason they cannot be in the planning room, you will want to meet with them separately to pick their brains so that you can bring them to the room, so to speak.

What are the components of the project? What are its dimensions and its elements? What are the different ways to divide up the project? For small groups, there may be "affinity groups" that serve as a basis for dividing up the congregation into groups. Sometimes these are a matter of age. So small children obviously will not do well in the same groups as older people or teenagers.

When will these small groups meet? All throughout the week at different times? All on the same day or night? You will probably want to begin the planning with a brainstorming session where all ideas are welcome. You might pass out sheets of paper and markers for everyone to put down every idea that comes into their minds and then tape them all to the wall. Then you group and organize them into categories.

A detailed proposal might include:
  • a clear statement of the project, including what outcomes the project hopes to achieve
  • what resources are necessary to achieve those outcomes, including 
  • what people are necessary and 
  • a financial pro forma of some sort, with 
  • the impact on other programs or projects (i.e., what is the "opportunity cost," what opportunities you will have to pass up on because you are taking this one)
  • a general timeline for how the project will unfold and reach its goal, and 
  • how you will measure success or the achievement of the outcomes ("assessment").
(4) Planning
5. So let's say you have a more formal proposal approved, if it is necessary. If so, you may already be well on your way in the planning of the project. For example, you may know what people, materials, and finances you will need and you may have a general timeline. You thus have at least a general sense of the process.

You need to know enough at the start to know that you can reach the goal or at least that you have a reasonable chance of reaching the goal. When visiting a certain foreign country once I was amazed at the number of half built buildings in a certain city. Someone had enough money to start building but apparently ran out of funds mid-stream. The hope apparently was, some day, to have enough more funds to finish it.

In general, you don't want half built buildings. You need to count the cost and have a good sense of the resources needed before you start a project. At the very least, you need to be reasonably sure that you will be able to build the landing gear by the time the plane needs to land!

6. At this point a PERT chart is handy. This is basically a much more detailed version of the timeline you created as part of the proposal stage. A PERT chart is a "Program Evaluation and Review Technique." It is basically a visual lay out that says, "This needs to happen before this can happen."

You can build a PERT chart either moving forward or moving backward. So for a new degree at my university:
  • It first has to pass the local school in which it is located. In my case, this means both the School of Theology and Ministry's (STM) curriculum committee and its faculty.
  • Then it has to pass two intermediate committees within the college in which my school is located: a) the curriculum committee of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and b) the assessment committee of CAS.
  • On the larger scale, it finally a) is seen by a group called the "Academic Affairs Committee" and b) has to be passed by the Faculty Senate of the whole university. [2]
This process cannot really be sped up. Most of these committees only meet once a month, so the PERT chart for unfolding a new degree is fairly rigid. One of them, the Faculty Senate, requires "two reads," a first read one month where the proposal is presented and a second read the next month when it is voted on.

Sometimes it takes more than one month for a proposal to get through one of these committees. The result is that you sometimes "count back" from the time you want to launch the program to know whether it is possible to get it through in time.

7. In a church or business (or your personal life), the schedule for accomplishing a project may be more flexible. In that case, you may want to "count back" from the project deadline and fill in the time in between accordingly. If a timeline is unreasonable at any step in the process, you will want to extend your final goal deadline.

You may also want to distinguish between an ideal schedule and critical deadlines. The ideal schedule is hopefully a comfortable and doable chain of events with some cushion built in. However, there is also a critical timeline, the one that would put your goal in jeopardy if you do not keep to it. For example, if you want to have your first service in the new building in January, then the new building has to be built by then.
(5) Process
We have inevitably talked a fair amount about process in the course of talking about approval, proposal, and planning. Some personalities are fixated on process, but more often than not there is not a single right way to do something or get to a goal, despite the more obsessive personalities among us. The goal is the goal, not the process to get there.

However, once you have agreed on a goal and an overall timeline, you will want to keep it. At this point, it is often helpful to have a project manager, someone whose sole or primary responsibility is to keep the project on schedule. This is the conductor of the symphony. It is not usually a high level leader or even manager. It is often a secretary or even a person hired temporarily until the project is finished (think wedding planner).

Since the leaders who cook up an idea usually have to lead and manage much more broadly than a single project, a project manager is someone there, if necessary, to nag or prod the key players to get their part of the project done on time. There is even special project management software to help (e.g., Microsoft Project).

This person might have a more detailed kind of PERT chart called a Gannt chart, which breaks down each step in the process into individual tasks.
Taken from Wikipedia
(6) Completion
If the project has been designed well and everyone has met their deadlines, then the project will hopefully be successfully accomplished on time. Then you can move on to the next project!

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 35: Leading Meetings

[1] See previous entries about being wise about spending your leadership capital over the opposition of others.

[2] The process is actually more cumbersome than this, as it has to go through the same basic process (minus the Senate) as a prospectus before it even becomes a formal proposal. Then it has to run through the whole system a second time before going to Senate. It's hard to imagine getting something through the whole process in less than four months. Five or six months is more likely. In the initial days of the Seminary, when we were just a start up, it could go as quickly as a) AAC with buy in from the faculty, b) Grad Counsel, c) Senate. I had some proposals approved in less than two months. :-)

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management
Conflict Management
Church Administration

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Gen Eds H9a: Greeks and the Hellenistic Age

The ninth unit of world history in this series is "Waves of Conquest." We start off with the conquests of Alexander the Great and the Greeks that were before him.

This is part of my "General Education in a Nutshell" series. The series consists of ten subjects you might study in a general education or "liberal arts" core at a university or college. The first topic in the overall series was philosophy. So far in the world history section:
Alexander the Great
1. In the year 323BC, Alexander the Great died. He was almost 33 years old and in his short life had conquered the world all the way from Macedonia (above Greece) to the Indus River (in present day India). The world had never been connected in this configuration before, from Greece to India.

To be sure, the east had tried to stretch to Greece during the Persian wars of the early 400s BC. The Persian king Xerxes (husband of Esther in the Bible, ruled 519-466BC) tried to conquer Greece. But he failed, as we will mention below.

With the death of Alexander the Great, the Hellenistic Age began, the age of the Greek. Greek became the lingua franca, the "business language" of the world. This would continue throughout the Roman period. It is no surprise that when the apostle Paul writes Rome, he writes in Greek, not Latin. In fact, the Roman poet Horace (65-27BC) once wrote, "Captured Greece took captive her ferocious conqueror." [1] Rome may have taken over Greece militarily, but Greek language and ideas filled in the gaps of Roman culture.

When he was young, Alexander's father, king Philip of Macedon, hired the great philosopher Aristotle (385-23BC) to tutor his son. Under Aristotle's influence, Alexander took "scientists" of a sort on his military conquests to investigate the kinds of life they would encounter.

The Seleucids and the Ptolemies
2. After the premature death of Alexander, his kingdom was divided among his generals. Ptolemy I took Egypt (ruled 323-282BC). The native Egyptian leadership was displaced, meaning that the upper class of Egypt from this time on were Greek-speakers. Egypt was largely in control of Palestine also until the year 201BC.

The Jews were generally on good terms with these Greek Egyptians throughout this period. There had been a Jewish settlement in Egypt, even a Jewish temple at Elephantine there from the time of the Babylonian captivity in the 500s. [2] It was likely at Alexandria in Egypt that the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, were first translated into Greek. [3] This took place around the year 250BC.

3. A second general of Alexander, Seleucid I then took the eastern part of Alexander's conquests, from Babylon and Persia in the East eventually to Anatolia in the west (ruled from 305-281BC). He founded the city of Antioch in Syria that played such a key role in the earliest church (e.g., Acts 13:1).

The Seleucids tried to take Palestine more than once from the Egyptians but did not succeed until 301BC. [4] Jerusalem was thus largely under Greek-speaking Syrian influence until the Romans took control in 63BC. In the early 200s BC, Jerusalem was highly "hellenized" or Greek-ified. It was in danger of blurring into the broader culture of the day.

It was during this time that the Maccabean crisis took place. Daniel 11 describes many of the events of the early 100s BC in allusive terms. The book known as 1 Maccabees is the best historical source of information for these events. In 167BC, the Syrians demanded that the Jews stop observing the ethnic particulars of the Law, such as circumcision. The temple was defiled with pagan sacrifices.

A three year struggle of guerrilla warfare ensued, with a family that came to be known as the Maccabees the principal actors (macabee means "hammer"). Although they did not completely throw off Syrian rule, they did secure greater independence for Israel, with their family ruling as client kings under the Syrians down until the Romans took over in 63BC.

The temple was rededicated in 164BC, with Hanukkah (or the Feast of Dedication, see John 10:22) instituted to remember this restoration. This event is essential background for understanding the climate of Israel at the time of the New Testament. When Paul speaks of zeal for the law (e.g., Rom. 10:2), an image of the Maccabees should come to mind. If it were not for this crisis, we can wonder whether any Jews would have been paying any attention to their Scriptures at all at the time of Christ.

The Peloponnesian Wars
4. In Greece, the century leading up to the conquests of Alexander was one in which power shifted several times. The 300s BC began with Sparta in control. But it shifted to Thebes and eventually to Macedon under Alexander the Great's father, Philip of Macedon.

The late 400s BC had seen several decades of war between Athens and Sparta. Athens had been in control of most of Greece in the 400s, but it had been overly zealous in its thirst for control. This led to an intermittent war between Athens and Sparta from 431-404BC, from which the Spartans emerged victorious. [5] This briefly ended the democracy for which Athens is so well known. It also ended the Golden Age of Greece.

5. Nevertheless, it was during the 300s that Greek philosophy was at its high point. Socrates was commanded to commit suicide by drinking hemlock in 399BC. In the decades that followed, Plato would set up his Academy in Athens (in 387BC). After his death, Aristotle would set up his own school, the Lyceum, there (in 335BC).

After these two, the greatest philosophers of Greek history, the 200s would see several more philosophical schools founded. Zeno founded the Stoics around 300. They were known for the "stoa" where they met. Epicurus started his movement in a garden at about the same time.

The Persian Wars
6. Athens had come to dominate Greece in the early 400s because it had led "the Delian league" to defend Greece against the invasions of the Persians. [6] Sparta was also a key power in the defeat of the Persians.

In 490, the Persian king Darius (cf. Haggai 2; Zechariah 1; Ezra 6; Daniel 6) invaded Greece and confronted the Athenians at the Battle of Marathon. [7] Although they were vastly outnumbered, the Athenians were victorious.

Ten years later, Xerxes returned. In 481, a league was founded with the Spartans in control of the armies on land and the Athenians in charge of a fleet of ships by sea. Both were victorious. The Spartans (the 300) stopped the advance of Xerxes at a narrow pass at Thermopylae, while the Athenians beat the Persians in the waters around Athens in the Battle of Salamis.

The Persians were finally defeated for good in 479BC at the Battle of Plateia.

7. In the years that followed, Athens would set up the Delian League in 478 and be the dominant force in Greece during this period. They would however abuse this power leading to the Peloponnesian War and Athens' ultimate defeat by the Spartans in 404.

The dominant leader in Athens in this "Golden Age" was Pericles, who was the dominant political leader of Athens from about 461-29BC. It was he that had the Parthenon build on the Acropolis. And he fostered democracy among the males of the city to an extent that would not repeat itself until modern times. He is known for being a great orator.

It was also during this period that the great dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were performed in Athens at yearly festivals.

The Trojan War
8. In the same period that Rome was shifting from kings to a republic, Athens was slowly empowering its people. It has some harsh rulers in the 600s and 500s. We get the word "draconian" from Draco, a ruler in the 600s known for his harshness. In the early 500s, Solon is known as the great lawgiver of Athens, who gave voice to the lower classes of Athenian society. They were now able to vote in the "ekkesia," the Greek assembly.

But it would not be until Cleisthenes in 510 that democracy would truly stick. It was briefly interrupted in 411 and 404, but would continue until Philip of Macedon took control of all Greece in 337BC.

9. But there are of course tales of Greece from even earlier times. The Mycenaean Age was the age of the Trojan Wars (ca. 1200BC) between Greece and Troy, which was located on the northwest tip of Anatolia (Turkey). This was Bronze Age Greece, which came to an end around 1100BC, starting a kind of "Dark Ages" in Greece history down until the time of classical Greece.

In the Mycenaean period, Greece consisted of a number of "city-states" ruled by kings. Key cities include of course Mycenae, but also Thebes, Corinth, and Athens, which was not a dominant city at this time. It is about this period that "Homer" wrote in The Iliad and The Odyssey. Of course these stories were no doubt passed on orally for generations and only written down in their current form around 700 BC. Whether the genius who finally gave them their current form was named Homer, we cannot say for certain. 

In the story of the Trojan War, the wife of Menelaus is abducted by one of the sons of the Trojan king and taken back to Troy. A war ensues for her recovery. After ten years, the Greeks pretend that they are leaving but leave a wooden horse as a gift to the goddess Athena. The Trojans take the horse into the city not knowing that there are Greeks inside. At night, the Greeks open the gate and allow the Greek army in, resulting in the destruction of the city and the victory of the Greeks. From this we get the expression, a "Trojan horse."

10. The exact causes of the collapse of Mycenaean culture is not exactly known. [8] Some refer to a "Dorian" invasion that would especially take root in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. Others refer to the conquests of the "sea peoples" that we know as the Phoenicians. They are likely the peoples we know from the Bible as the Philistines, and they would settle north Africa at Carthage. They would seem to be a Semitic people.

We know that these sea peoples used iron, and thus were technologically more advanced than the users of bronze they conquered. Some of the conflicts in the books of Samuel in the Old Testament reflect this transition.

  • Guys like to go to war. Deal with it or else get defeated by the next Cro-Magnon to come along.
  • Movements often disappear on their own by natural attrition as their initial enthusiasts die off. They are often strengthened or reinvigorated by opposition.
  • People fight harder to defend their own lands and families than to conquer some distant one.
  • If you ever gain power, don't abuse it. If you treat those who are vulnerable to your power with respect (without making yourself vulnerable), you will reign long.
  • Technological advances often accompany historical victors.
Next Week: History 9b: Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians

[1] Epistles 2.1

[2] A simplistic version of Jewish history might find it odd that Jews would accept a temple somewhere other than Jerusalem. But it is not likely that the doctrine of one temple was firmly established at the time when Jerusalem was destroyed in 586BC, the time when the Diaspora or scattering of Jews was most strongly taking place. We should not think that the typical Diaspora Jew had the fully mature theology of the Old Testament as we know it. In fact, it is unlikely that the Pentateuch was in its current form at that time, let alone the other parts of the Old Testament.

[3] Called the "Septuagint" for the legend that seventy old men translated it. The earliest version of this legend is found in the pseudonymous, Letter of Aristeas. Pseudonymous means written under a fictive name.

[4] The Romans were already powerful enough in the year 175BC to keep the Seleucids from completely conquering Egypt. Egypt would quickly become Rome's main supplier of grain.

[5] The Greek historian Thucydides tells of the conflict in great detail in his Peloponnesian Wars.

[6] Herodotus, sometimes called the father of history writing, records these wars in his The Histories.

[7] The marathon gets its name from the fact that Phidippides ran the 26.2 miles from Marathon back to Athens to give news of the victory. According to the legend, he died after delivering the news.

[8] Minoan culture, on the island of Crete south of Greece, had ended around 1400, also for unknown reasons.