Halt and Catch Fire, Together

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Having survived the perils of the WordPress conference, mentioned yesterday, I am prepared to report back on my accomplishments. Since those accomplishments proved so minimal, I’d instead like to report on an apparently unrelated matter, the now-completed AMC program Halt and Catch Fire.

The four seasons of Halt and Catch Fire followed a small group of computer innovators as they explored pretty much every aspect of the PC explosion of the 1980s. In watching these people struggle through their efforts, I’m reminded of not just what I’ve heard at the WordPress camp but also Solomon’s continued comments on working together:

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

The Cardiff Giant

In that first season of the TV show, we have four main characters working together to create a terrific IBM clone computer. (If you’re younger than 40, you might need to be told that an IBM clone is one that runs PC programs without the limitations and cost of the IBM machines.) Those four are as follow:

  • Gordon is the primary hardware engineer. Without him, the Giant would have never been developed, but he completely lacked drive until he met
  • Joe, who knows virtually nothing about tech but who has a vision. Joe gets Gordon moving and continues, through methods fair and foul, advancing the project, but Joe cannot provide software without
  • Cameron, a college-dropout coding savant, who not only programs the BIOS for the Giant but develops an amazing and ahead-of-its-time operating system. Cameron is talented but she lacks the discipline of
  • Donna, Gordon’s wife, whose abilities in data recovery and hardware intricacies save the day on more than one occasion.

Take away any of these four and the Cardiff Giant computer never comes to market. Combined, they become a cord of four strands.

Similarly, as I sit here in the WordPress conference hearing people talk about dozens of tools and hardware matters that no single person could completely comprehend, I’m reminded of the essentially collaborative nature of most work.

Getting in Tune

As dismal as much of Ecclesiastes winds up being, we can definitely take heart from what it says here about working with others. The Christian life is never intended to be a solo endeavor. If we were supposed to be soloists, then we wouldn’t have so much attention paid to the interactions within the church. If we were supposed to do our thing by ourselves, then why, in John 13:34-35, would Jesus take the trouble to tell us to “love one another” as a special new command?

Our call today should be to reach out to create and improve the relationships that we have so that we can love each other more richly and be the church that Christ intended.

So who will you connect with today?

The Solo Crisis–Ecclesiastes 4:7-8

The lonely blogger is having an existential crisis today. After posting to this space for four months in a row, I determined to “sharpen the saw” and attend a WordPress conference. Over the last hour, I sat through a keynote address that left me thinking–and you have to imagine a powerful voice with reverb here–I am completely out of my depth.

I just want to write. I just want to share my struggles to discover wisdom with an audience. That’s it. But it sounds like, if I really want to accomplish this and get more than 13 hits a day, I’ll need to learn a hundred different technical factors or hire technically-minded people.

My crisis is this: I don’t always play well with others. That’s why I like teaching college English. They point me to a classroom and send me 24 students, expecting that I’ll achieve the course objectives and turn in grades 16 weeks later. That’s my perfect world, but the WordPress camp suggests that I’m doomed. I’m the “person without a companion” that Solomon mentions:

Again I saw futility under the sun. There is a person without a companion, without even a son or brother, and though there is no end to all his struggles, his eyes are still not content with riches. “Who am I struggling for,” he asks, “and depriving myself of good things?” This too is futile and a miserable task.

Ecclesiastes 4:7-8

Struggling Alone

As an introvert, I find this a frustrating and daunting couple of verses. Some of the people I know–I’d call them friends, but I don’t have all that many people who rise to that level–are natural extroverts and cooperators. These people maintain a vast network of contacts and know how to work with those people in a variety of ways.

But that’s not me. And I believe that even some of these extrovert networking types go into an introvert coma when the subject turns to matters of the spirit. Those extrovert people I know might go out with three complete strangers for a golf tournament and, by the end of nine holes, know the names of the other guys’ kids and have a skiing vacation planned for next January. But when one of those guys gets serious and says something like “Guys, I pray about it all the time, but I just can’t shake my porn habit,” the others will quickly steer the conversation back to golf or kids or skiing.

Getting in Tune

Many people–and I think it is men more than women–have a hard time talking about the serious issues of Christian discipleship. Instead, they tend to try to do a free-solo climb up the mountains of this world. But that’s not God’s plan for us.

In Luke 9, Jesus sends those first twelve disciples in pairs. That on-the-job training apparently yielded results, because in the next chapter, he’s sending out 72 disciples, again in pairs. Even Jesus Himself, the man I tried to describe as an introvert recently, took the disciples to support Him in Gethsemane.

Some things we have to do alone, but God gave us other people for a reason. We’ll grow more when we struggle together.

Bernie the Millionaire?

Have you heard the latest? Hero to the millennials and democratic-socialist icon Bernie Sanders has made a startling confession. He is a millionaire. People on the right–and that’s where I typically see myself–have been having a field day pointing out the supposed hypocrisy of this thing. The item below is typical of some of the Twitter sentiment.

Let’s do a little bit of math. As a U.S. Senator, Sanders earns, this year, at age 77, $174,000. I assumed that he’s been working since age 25 and that his income has risen by about 3% annually. Then I assumed that Bernie has prudently set back a very conservative 5% of his income since day one. Over those 50-plus years, his savings would have accumulated, earning, let’s say, 6% per year, and, wonder of wonders, crossed the million-dollar threshold just this year.

I earn considerably less than $174,000 a year, and I set back a good bit more than 5% each year. If I earned the sort of money that Sanders is bringing in, even ignoring his book royalties, then I’m sure I’d be socking away considerably more than my suggested 5% amount.

The wonder of things, I would suggest, is not that Bernie Sanders is among the ranks of the millionaires. The wonder would be if he weren’t there. Of course it seems that his books have made him a great deal of money. Will we fault him for that? Should he have intentionally written bad books so that no one would buy them? I suppose he could donate his royalties to some charity, but he would still have the income.

So far, this post has not been terribly spiritual, but I share it because of the problematic things I encounter on social media from solid Christian brothers and sisters. When we get into that political realm, all that stuff about love and forgiveness seems to fly out the window. I see it on both sides of the political spectrum. Sweetness-and-light liberals become ravening savages when they speak of President Trump, while rock-solid conservatives want to disembowel Nancy Pelosi.

Stop it! We will disagree. That’s okay, but we need to continue to disagree together. In Galatians 2:11-12, Paul shares this intriguing tale:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party. 

So Paul and Cephas (Peter) disagreed. How did they work out this issue, which they apparently did since they worked together later in life according to tradition? They were apparently able to do it because they stayed in touch. How else could Paul oppose Peter to his face unless they were still speaking?

Sarcasm and blame-fixing is beneath a follower of Jesus. Yes, we will disagree about the matters of this world. That’s completely acceptable, but if that disagreement places a wedge between us, then both parties lose. If we take seriously Jesus’ instruction to “seek first the Kingdom,” let me suggest that it’s not found in snarky social media.


The Needle Detector

Confession Time: I fled my house today in order to avoid a visit from the mother of my former son-in-law. Actually, I wasn’t exactly fleeing. I just didn’t want to be there when she arrived. (Wait–that’s pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?)

Not to waste the time after vacating the house, I headed to one of my favorite haunts, the Midwest Genealogy Center, a top-flight genealogy library that just happens to be about two miles from my house. My current research is not so much tracking down the various ancestors who explain my presence on this earth as to learn the history of my new home and the land on which it stands. Today’s quarry was obituaries for the people who, I’m pretty sure, built the barn that now houses us: Fred and Bessie.

Having done some poking around, I knew death dates for both of these people. With that information in hand and given that they were Independence locals, finding the obituary shouldn’t be tough. I went to Fred’s death date, 27 November 1958, in the Independence Examiner and began scrolling forward through the microfilm. I gave up around 4 December with empty hands. Trying the same thing with Bessie’s death date, I had similarly crummy results.

Eventually, following this same process in the Kansas City Star, I located entries for both of these people, but I couldn’t help but think there might have been a fuller account in the hometown paper. On my way out of the library, I asked one of the expert staff. “We don’t have anything like an index for the Examiner do we?”

It turns out that we do. Punching in the appropriate surname, I received a quick 81 hits. That’s not to say that there were 81 articles since Bessie, for example, appeared in Fred’s obituary as well as her own. Still, by clicking on a link, I could see the date, page, and column on which the item appeared.

So here’s my choice. Spend an hour or more scrolling through a bunch a random pages and discovering the price of grapes at Milgrim’s in 1957, or talk to a librarian for two minutes and get easy and efficient access. You’d think that with all the years of research I’ve put in, I’d know better.

In Proverbs 11:14, we realize that my folly isn’t a new issue:

Without guidance, a people will fall,
but with many counselors there is deliverance.

The same idea is picked up a few chapters later in 15:22.

Plans fail when there is no counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed.

Our culture encourages self reliance and rugged individualism. My maleness and introversion combine to make me even less inclined to seek out help. But with some outside help, my needle is suddenly located in a considerably smaller haystack.