Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to the Mac

My first computer was a Macintosh 512k, in 1984. A friend, an Apple dealer, gave it to me. One day he asked, “Do you have a computer?” I told him no, and frankly I wondered why I would want one. My electric typewriter seemed to be working just fine.

Nonetheless, my friend graciously sent a used Mac to me and within three days I was hooked. I had the typewriter extracted from my office and never gave it another thought. Over the next 15 years or so, Macs and I worked wonderfully together. Then around 1999, the non-profit organization that provided an office for me insisted I switch to a PC. Back then Macs and PCs didn’t “gee-haw” well, as they say here in the South.

For more than a decade I grudgingly wrestled with PCs – freeze-ups, system crashes, viruses and spam. Finally, just a couple of weeks ago, I had an attack of sanity and – with my wife’s encouragement – returned to Macintosh. I have a beautiful wide-screen iMac, and I ain’t going back!

For many years I’ve contended Macintosh was the computer for people who don’t know anything about computers (like me), and that Windows was Microsoft’s best effort to replicate what the Mac did naturally. Those opinions haven’t changed. If anything, I’m more convinced than ever.

Instead of a tangle of wires under my computer desk, looking like the machine’s on life support, now there are just two plugs – one for the iMac and one for my printer. There’s no computer tower – the display screen contains everything, including the disk drives. This thing has more gizmos and gadgets than I’ll ever need, but it’s perfectly designed with technological morons like me in mind.

All I can say is, "Thanks, Steve Jobs and Apple." You can go home again!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Is Christianity in Jeopardy?

Recently Christianity has taken a number of hits in the news. Author Anne Rice, best-known for her vampire novels, declared she is renouncing Christianity, although asserting she remains committed to Jesus Christ. A broad-based survey also reported that countless thousands of young people are turning their backs on the institutional church, despite the insistence of many they still find spirituality intriguing.

Does this mean Christianity is on its last legs? And what does it mean for the cause of Christ? Do you think God’s worried?

I’m hardly an expert, but having been a lifelong churchgoer that at one time or another has been affiliated with at least eight different denominations, I feel certain Jesus is alive and well, although His Church may be suffering from acute indigestion.

In America it’s easy to compartmentalize our faith, going through the motions and acting like devout believers on Sundays (and maybe Wednesdays or at small group meetings), then behave like virtual atheists the rest of the week. This counters the Colossians 3:17 exhortation which says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” I think this means we should be living our faith 24/7.

Seems to me, whether it’s Anne Rice or millions of young people who have tried “church” and found it lacking, what they’re looking for is reality, something genuine they can trust in and live for. Sometimes, with their rituals, traditions, structure – even politics – churches fail to deliver what’s most important: the how’s and why’s of a vibrant, growing relationship with God through Christ.

That’s why, I believe, the apostle Paul wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). If we get our relationship with Jesus right, everything else will follow. But if we surround Jesus with a bunch of add-ons, or attempt to repackage Him to seem more palatable to the secular culture, people seeking Truth will see through that and look elsewhere for answers.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My Take on Retirement

Recently I read an article in which experts speculated on how much a person will need to retire and still live comfortably. What struck me was they weren’t talking about people in their 60’s or 70’s. They were projecting the requirements for a person to retire at age 35!

Holey moley! Imagine going to college, earning only a bachelor’s degree, and then actually working at most about 14 years (excluding any part-time work during high school and college). Who in good conscience could work just that short duration and being content to sit back, engage in distractions for the next 35-50 years, and cease making a meaningful contribution to the world around them? Perhaps that seems like heaven to you, but I can’t fathom such a non-productive existence.

It would be nice to be financially secure, not having to fret the next paycheck, but there must be more to life than pursuing a point of continual self-gratification. Not that work should be the primary focus of our lives, but vocation is one way we contribute meaningfully to society.

On the other hand, I also read Germany is contemplating upping the national retirement age to 70 – and its citizens are grousing. The German government’s rationale is the low birth rate (meaning those retiring would leave an unfilled void in the labor pool); longer life expectancies, and the country’s already overburdened welfare system.

Now 62 and an older Baby Boomer, I know many of my generational counterparts eagerly anticipate kicking back from the daily work grind. I understand aging takes a toll on energy, strength and stamina. But for people to retire completely while able-bodied and able-minded seems terribly wasteful.

Interestingly, the Bible addresses retirement only once. Numbers 8:25-26 says, "at the age of fifty, they (Levites) must retire from their regular service and work no longer. They may assist their brothers…but they themselves must not do the work.” So Levites (Israelite priests) were to perform formal rituals between 25 and 50, then defer to younger men – but even then they were encouraged to assist or even mentor their successors.

In Genesis 1, we read God established work and gave mankind stewardship over His creation. He gives everyone different abilities, skills and gifts, not only for livelihood but also for serving others. We often hear about conserving natural resources – and I agree that’s important. But what can be a greater “natural resource” than the wisdom and experience of older workers – accountants or plumbers, medical practitioners or sales people, carpenters or teachers?

As we get older, we might need to transition into less-demanding jobs requiring fewer hours, but suddenly ceasing to offer our talents and capabilities for the benefit of others, in my view, is both selfish and irresponsible.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Travel and Technology

I don’t travel as much as I once did. Actually, when I think of “road warriors” who habitually hit the road – or rise in the friendly skies – on Mondays every week, not returning until the following Fridays, I never traveled that much. But I recall a time, in the early ‘80s, when I had to fly to three different cities in successive weeks.

En route to my destination on the third week of that stretch, I remember having a disconcerting and disorienting thought: “Now where am I going?” No wonder musicians, after hopping from city to city, night after night, occasionally suffer mental lapses and greet their audiences with something like, “It’s great to be here in…uh…oh, yeah… Chattanooga!”

On a recent trip to Denver it became abundantly clear how much things have changed over the three decades or so that I have been an active participant in airplane travel. To start, if you travel very much, you soon discover a jet is little more than a glorified bus. (No offense to my friends at Arrow Stage Lines.) Planes travel higher and faster, but in many respects they lack the comforts and conveniences of modern motorcoaches.

Case in point: Just before takeoff from my connecting city of New Orleans, the flight attendant announced all electronic devices had to be turned off. That meant the young woman sitting across the aisle from me had to “turn off” her book, contained in a Kindle electronic reader. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I continued reading my book. You see, mine had no on-off switch – just black letters on real paper. While her book was in momentary hibernation, mine continued telling its story.

On an earlier flight I had noticed a young businessman next to me also forced to endure technological slumber, shutting down his iPhone, which meant holding e-mails, voice mails and texts at abeyance until we landed. All around me, laptop computers had to be dimmed while our jet began to soar aloft.

I cringed to envision the wheels of industry slowing to a crawl as its captains were transported from the bayous to the Rockies. Imagine high-tech umbilical cords being abruptly severed, only to be reattached upon landing.

How ever did we exist, much less thrive, without cell phones, notebook computers, and electronic books? Was there really “civilization” back then, those “olden days”? I guess we’ll have to leave that for anthropologists of years still to come to determine.