Technology posts

A Man of Two Worlds: Digital and Paper

Theologians and philosophers alike have drawn many dichotomies throughout the years: flesh and spirit, yin and yang, iustus et peccator (i.e. saint and sinner), id and ego, inner child and inner adult… heck, even grocery stores were in on that action for a while: paper or plastic.  But today there is yet another dichotomy that splits the world in two:  digital or paperless

You can tell from the photos of my desk in earlier posts what happens to paper when it comes into my office.  It gets organized archaeologically, that is, the newer stuff gets piled on top of the older stuff.  So, when I want to find something, I hope I can remember the relative date that it was received.  Sorting through the piles of paper, I think to myself, “No, this came in AFTER what I’m looking for.”  This is a slightly better system than I had before.  My previous system I had used since college.  It was called: “Where in the heck did I see that last?”  My roommate and I actually turned it into a game… complete with a theme song.

But this is the 21st century, my friends.  The digital era is upon us.  With a new copier upgrade that my church received in 2012, the document scanner can send docs as pdf’s with optical character recognition (OCR) straight to my desktop.  From there I can sort and store them in Evernote or other places on my hard-drive.  I’ve already started to build some habits of scanning and saving key documents that come in .  I scan them, send them to Evernote, tag them, and don’t worry about them ever again.  I’ll be able to call them up no problem… hypothetically.  I haven’t really called them up yet.  In addition, there are numerous bloggers and websites devoted to going completely paperless in an MacOS or Windows environment; search for one of those if you want details on how to make the jump.

I’ve read many of those and tried the apps that they discuss.  I’ve implemented some of their strategies but there are others that I just can’t get around.  There are some things that my hybrid digital and analog brain needs paper and pencil for.  Curse my Generation X dual-processing system!  So I am resigned to be a man of two worlds and here’s how I divide them.

What goes paperless?

In general, things that I need to REMEMBER go paperless.  My history with storing and recalling paper documents is terrible.  I’ve always had a hard time finding what I need.  Here are some of the best things that I’ve taken paperless:

  1. Web clippings.  This one is obvious.  There was a time when I would print out web pages and file them in manila folders, only to toss those folders when I would go through my files annually.  Then, about 2 months after I had tossed the file, I would be searching the internet for the page that I had printed but tossed.  Yeah, I tried bookmarks but I could never generate a sorting system that allowed me to find them quickly or easily.  (Did I file that cool crowd breaker under “Ministry” or under “Youth”?)  With Evernote’s webclipper extensions for both Safari and Chrome, I can clip it, tag it, process it, and find it later when I really want to research and write about a particular subject.
  2. Meeting Minutes.  I’ve gone back and forth on taking notes in meetings on the provided agenda or in Evernote via my iPad.  Now I kinda do both.  I will take some notes on my iPad directly in Evernote and then I’ll also scan in the agenda with any hand-written notes as well.  I’ll attach the paper to the note and have both in the same place.  Since I usually title my meeting notes pages with Year-Month-Date, it incorporates with my archaeological filing system quite nicely as in, “No, I know I created that note BEFORE last month’s Elder’s Meeting…”  Also, Evernote has a way to set a reminder on notes.  So, I set a reminder to review certain notes on Mondays, the days I like to chart out my week.  Reviewing those notes reminds me to add things to my to-do list for certain days.
  3. Inspirations and Ideas.  Because I never know when a good idea for a blog post, sermon, or ministry project is going to hit, I save these digitally.  If my archaeological system should fail me, I have a tag simply called, “Ideas” that I throw on every new inspiration that comes along.  Later, I ‘ll decide if that’s a ministry idea or a blog idea or wherever and deal with it appropriately.  But I capture these things digitally because 99% of the time I have Evernote nearby.  I don’t put these in my journal for two reasons.  First, my journal is only nearby about 50% of the time and so using it to capture is a coin-flip.  Second, I don’t review my journal that regularly so the good idea may have expired before I see it again.

What stays on paper?

Generally speaking, things that I want to PROCESS or think through stay on paper.  A keyboard and monitor just aren’t the best ways for me to do some of the deep thought that some of my work requires.  There’s also the romantic feel of a stubby pencil in my fingers looking at a yellow legal pad.  This posture communicates to me that I’ve got to do some thinking and the destination of that thinking is not as important as the process.  Here’s what I just can’t take paperless:

  1. My journal.  My journal is a place where I process.  There’s an axiom I’ve heard a number of places that goes something like this: “Ideas are best formed over the lips and through fingertips,” meaning that the act of talking or writing helps us to process our internal ideas better.  My journal is just that: it’s a place to process  not necessarily preserve or publish.  I’m processing the day’s thoughts and feelings in the moment and I may or may not review my journal.  When I do review my journal, it’s to look for general progress or recurring themes that may point to something larger or deeper.  There’s just something about sitting with an empty book, a pen in my hand, and a mind full of thoughts that makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.
  2. Work in the original languages.  I still do a lot of translating in Greek for sermon and Bible study preparation .  I have the Logos Bible software and a morphologically tagged version of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament and the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and I do turn to them when I get stuck.  But my preferred method of translating is my trusty tomes that I’ve had since college: the original text, my lexicon and beginning grammar, and a stenographer’s notebook.  The dual columns of the notebook allow a lot of space to parse every verb completely, with the Greek vocable in one column and the full parse in the other.  Again, this is about the process and not the product and the stubby pencil work of translating is something that just takes time when preparing to preach or teach God’s Word.  This time is as much about processing the ideas of the text as it is about parsing the text.
  3. The Storyline Productivity Schedule.  In a recent podcast, Erik Fisher of Beyond the To-Do List interviewed Donald Miller about his Storyline Productivity Schedule.  It’s episode #58 of Erik’s podcast, it’s worth a listen.  In that podcast, Erik asks Donald Miller if there will be an app for this process.  Miller pretty much says, “no.”  Miller says that it’s the process that’s important and he feels that pen and paper are a necessary part of the process.  Again, this productivity tool is all about process and I like to process with pen and paper.  I’m less than a month into using this process and I plan to post my thoughts on it in a later post but this process is not so much about remembering what I did on a particular day as it is helping me to process the priorities for that day.

How do I delineate my papered and my paperless world?  If it’s something I need to REMEMBER and find again, I store it digitally but I have a hard time processing ideas in a digital medium.  And, if it’s something that I want to PROCESS but don’t necessarily need to remember, I pick up a pencil and a legal pad and work through it the old-fashioned way, but I’ll probably never find my notes again.  I do find myself switching from one to another a bit as well.   While writing in my journal I’ll pick up my phone and make a quick note to myself for something that needs more work.  While reviewing some notes, I’ll put my keyboard up, pull out a legal pad, and start to process what’s going on.

Inefficient?  Yeah.  Clunky?  Most certainly.  But there are some things that just can’t be done on a keyboard and montior… or on a tablet with a stylus either.  Some things just need a pencil, some paper, and some room to think.

What about you?  What’s holding you back from making a complete jump to a paperless lifestyle? Is it intentional?


The Mac Experiment– Day 34

I’m about one month into the great Mac experiment at my office (see previous thoughts HERE).  I thought I would take some time to share: The Good, The Bad, and The Dreamy (things that I’d still like to add).

Here’s a picture of my fully realized workspace in my office at Ascension Lutheran Church.


Yes, the clutter is still there.  It’s a constant companion.  Here’s THE GOOD part of my switch to Mac:

1.  iCloud: this feature has been a total lifesaver. It brought over my contacts, my preferences, even my bookmarks (which I’ll cover later).  With some help from my brilliant wife, I was even able to bring over a lot of my archived e-mail messages from Outlook on my HP (although I still have yet to look at any of them.)  And iCloud makes all my other Apple devices work in perfect harmony as well (except bookmarks… more teasers).

2.  Dropbox: There is no reason NOT to use this free service/ app.  It installs onto either Mac or “PC” and automatically syncs files across all devices.  I even set up a shared folder on another Dell machine I use for publications as a quick and easy way to share files back and forth.  I’ve almost reached my limit of free space but the ease of use and universality of sharing will make it money well spent.

3.  Nozbe: I’ve played with Nozbe but the big limiter to me was that it was only on my iDevices and not on my desktop.  On my HP it was only accessible through a web version and not very useful.  (Web apps contribute too much to internet wandering for me so I tend to avoid them.)  But in Mac-land, Nozbe is a desktop app and it is single-handedly helping me to get more stuff done as well as forget less stuff.  The addition of Nozbe to my desktop workspace is starting pay off HUGE.

Honorable mentions:

  • MS Office 365 has made it so that Sara and I didn’t have to sink huge amounts of cash into the standard Office suite.
  • The Apple App Center is a great one-stop shop for new programs and updates.
  • Size-up has helped me to save time by re-sizing and relocating open windows to assigned spots which really helps to manage “screen real estate.”
  • And, as you can tell from the pic above, I have a huge 27″ Thunderbolt which not only gives a lot of great visuals but also adds 3 USB ports on the back.  Beautiful and handy!  BlueTooth peripherals (mouse and keyboard) also free up existing USB ports.

My HP laptop is still set up as  well.  It’s relegated to the same corner as before but it has all peripherals and accessories removed so its existence is quite spartan.  Here’s a pic:


Quite a bit less there than before.  But it’s still there.  I planned for it to serve as a back up just in case my Mac couldn’t do things that I needed from my old HP.  And I’m glad I did that because there are some things that I’m still working around on the Mac.  I call them THE BAD:

1.  Bookmark Tribble Syndrome: Can’t remember how I did it exactly but I found a way for my Google Chrome bookmarks to sync with my iPad and iPhone.  Handy for looking at Safari on the run.  But, when I added the Mac Mini to the mix, my bookmarks ran wild like the fuzzy little creatures on the original Star Trek program.  After trying to keep some more useful bookmarks, I finally just declared “bookmark bankruptcy,” deleted them all from all browsers and started over.  I also signed out of Google Chrome at home.  There are still some that are creeping around and I haven’t found where they’re coming from.  It was a hassle in the middle but has since resolved itself.

2.  MS Publisher is MIA:  This isn’t a total “deal breaker” but it requires me to use my laptop or a less powerful desktop for some layout work that I do.  I’m searching for an inexpensive substitute that will also import my old Pub files; I’m not at all interested in learning how to dual boot .  But, my work in this genre is limited so I’m only using my laptop for maybe an hour a week to accomplish these tasks.

3.  Lutheran Service Builder:  This is a great program produced by my denomination, the LCMS, to help build orders of service (OoS).  We print our OoS in the bulletin each week and this is invaluable for initial layout.  It’s not offered for Mac OS and I’m not willing to dual boot.  Again, not a deal-breaker because I use a Dell desktop for most worship layout and Pub stuff now anyway, so I just have to move to a different machine.

Dishonorable Mentions:

  • Mac OS tends to leave things running in the background more.  If I’m not quick to “Quit” them, my system can get bogged down and hang up.  I’ve then got to cycle through my open windows and close what I don’t need.
  • My Faith Inkubator PowerPoint slides don’t quite run right but I haven’t spent much time researching a work-around.  I have to use my laptop for projection anyway.
  • My view is somewhat obstructed from this Thunderbolt display but I’m willing to make the sacrifice.
  • My power supply is in the way and I’ve got a USB cord over 10 ft. long connecting to my laser printer.  I’ve just got to be careful how I walk around.

But I’m not quite done yet.  I’ve got some other things I’d still like to do to my Mac Mini rig.  I call them: THE DREAMY.

1.  12 South BackPack: It’s a little shelf on the backside of the display that’s large enough to hold the “tower” of the Mac Mini.  This would help to give me some more desk space and move some of the cords up and out of the way… or at least out of sight

2. Brother HL-2270DW: The over-extended USB cord to the printer is my biggest tripping hazard.  I poked around for a wireless add-on to my existing printer but a whole new printer may be the solution.

3.  RAM Upgrade: As I mentioned above, my current Mac Mini can hang if I leave too many windows open at once.  It’s only got 4 GB of RAM.  It’s about $100 to double it.  I hope this would help with some of the hanging issues I’ve experienced.

4.  Mounted Flat-screen monitor and Apple TV:  My office is right next to a small conference room where I teach a weekly Bible study and Confirmation.  I would love to mount some sort of flatscreen to the wall and attach an Apple TV.  I wouldn’t have to set up an LCD projector and laptop every week for Confirmation class. I could just take my wireless keyboard into the next room, load up my presentation, and share it to Apple TV.  Easy peasey lemon squeezy.  Not to mention that I could also stream some videos through iTunes.

So there you have it.  31 Days into the great Mac experiment and so far I’m digging it.  There are some limitations but nothing that costs me a huge amount of time or brain energy.  If you have any suggestions for some of the issues that I’ve listed above, I would love to hear them.  I am in no way a Mac expert; I’m very much a neophyte so I would welcome any and all helps!

Migration cures Myopia

As I set up my new Mac Mini in my office last week, I ran into an interesting problem.  Here’s a photo to help explain; please excuse the clutter.


I have a Thunderbolt display on it’s way but it’s not here yet.  If I were to set up my new Mac where my old laptop (as pictured above) currently resides, the Thunderbolt will not fit under the bookcase above.  It would be sitting about where my keyboard is currently set up.  My face would be about 12-18 inches from the screen.  I don’t know if that would help or hurt my eye strain levels but it’s not good.

With the lower footprint of the Mac Mini, my wife recommended that I try putting everything on my large desk.  Since I’m at a point where I’d like to have both computers available “just in case,” I followed her suggestion.  Here’s what my Mac set up looks like as a result; again, ignore the clutter:

Image                            The reduced footprint of the new Mac is nice; see it underneath my orange external HD.  But, more importantly, compare the two views.  With my old set up, I stared into a corner most of my day and I typed away on my laptop.  If I were to look away from my screen, all there was to see was two beige walls and a small bulletin board with some inspiring words on it.  With this new set up, I am able to enjoy the view into a small courtyard outside my window.  Just to the right there is also a large plate glass patio door that lets in even more natural light.  I could probably have some friends from Ascension help me put a bird feeder to attract wildlife every once in a while.

Even after 2 or 3 days I can notice a difference in my mood and productivity level.  I catch myself glancing over the top of my monitor and out the window a lot more.  I find that this creates opportunity to daydream and create and think.

That’s the myopia I’d really like to cure.  My setup will continue to be on the desk, not because I’m worried about the strain on my eyes from having a huge monitor so close, but because I’m worried about the strain on my soul from sitting in a corner every day.  While this was all facilitated by a change in computers, I could have and should have done this years ago.  It’s amazing what a change in scenery can do for your heart.

What’s one small change you can make in your work area to help your soul?

Breaking the Shackles… kinda

Apple’s Iconic 1984 Superbowl Commercial is still remembered almost 30 years later.  It was only shown once during the 1984 Superbowl but it has marked the iconclastic perception and identity of Apple ever since it first appeared.  Apple is marketed for free-thinkers, rebels, and individualists everywhere.  The funny thing is that if you’re buying an Apple product to be an individual, you’re just like all the other “individuals” who buy Apple products.  I get that.

I have slowly eased my way into the Apple pool.  I started with an iPhone 4.  I skipped the earlier iterations and waited for the 4.  I was amazed at how seamlessly music, information, and communication meld together on that device.  When tablet PC’s came on the scene, I picked up an iPad 2.  The integration and sharing between these two devices was amazing.  Most of the information that was on one could be found on the other.  The iPad was everything I wanted a portable PC to be.

Once I started using a Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad, my HP Pavilion dv7 “desktop replacement laptop” looked like an amphicar.  It had all the “power” of a desktop computer and the “portability” of a laptop.  Actually, it did neither of those things well, just like a car that could be boat (or a boat that could be a car).

This Christmas, I have immersed myself in the Apple pool.  I’m replacing the HP at my office with a Mac Mini with a Thunderbolt display.  I’m not an early adopter and I’m certainly not a fanboy.  You won’t catch me camping out on a sidewalk somewhere for the iPhone 6 or any other new toy or gadget from Apple.  Nor am I blind to some of the limitations and quirks of Apple products, most notably their price tags.  I realize that devices with similar specifications can be had for less money.

But here’s why I’ve slowly waded in.  The Apple system makes sense to me.  When I first picked up an iPhone 4, the iOS and functionality just seemed intuitive to me.  Once I had the basics down on the iPhone, the same happened with the iPad.  I didn’t have to fumble with a lot of settings, cords, and widgets.  By the same token, in the 12 hours that I’ve had with my Mac Mini, I’ve been surprised at the ease with which some tasks are handled.  I spent 20 minutes trying to change my profile photo.  “Let me find my icon, download it to my computer… now, where do I find that directory?”  In frustration, I googled for the answer only to find that I could have drug the picture from my browser to my icon placeholder directly.  Simple… so simple that I overlooked it.  For me, Apple devices have just worked.

Understand, your mileage may vary.  People process so many things in their life in different ways… left brain vs. right brain, extrovert vs. introvert, dog people vs. cat people.  I’m not going to try to proselytize anyone from one way to another.  I’m simply saying that I’m going to try something new because it just seems to work.

And wasn’t trying something new the whole reason for buying an Apple back in 1984?

What the NFL has taught me about leading my church

A big story in the NFL last week was the benching of Robert Griffin III.  As the story unfolded, what I picked up was the stress between Coach Mike Shanahan and Redskin’s owner, Daniel Snyder.  It sounds to me like Snyder was behind the drafting of RGIII, based on the latter’s success in the NCAA.  Drafting RGIII made sense.  He led Baylor into prominence while the quarterback there.  He graduated from Baylor, a decent academic school, with a 3.67 GPA.  He won Heisman Trophy in 2011.  RGIII showed he had brains and talent; why not draft him second overall?

These recent events reminded me of a page in the Tennessee Titans history.  In 2006, Bud Adams pushed for the Titans to draft Vince Young from the University of Texas.  Young had a stellar college career with a reputation for carrying teams to victory.  He finished second in 2005’s Heisman Trophy voting.  Jeff Fisher drafted Young but it took a direct mandate from Bud Adams for Fisher to play VY.  The strain between Fisher and Young became a local soap opera on sports talk radio.  The relationship ended with Adams allowing Young to be traded and Fisher was fired.

Two players with stellar careers at the college level and similar results in the NFL.  Why couldn’t they make the leap?  Because the leaders of each team did not consider the culture of their team.  The leaders of these teams assumed that what made the college players great could be copied into the NFL.

This is a classic blunder that I make as a pastor.  And I see other pastors making the same mistake.  As the pastor of a small church, about 200 members, I look at what other larger churches are doing and I assume that their vision or their program will work where I’m at.  Just like Dan Snyder and Bud Adams assumed that RGIII and Vince Young would be successful in their franchises, many pastors borrow a plan from someone else and assume that it will work in their church.  That’s not the case.  Each church has it’s own God-given identity that cannot be copied.

To show what I mean, consider Tom Brady.  Brady is a league and Superbowl MVP on multiple occasions but Brady was picked in the 6th round of the NFL draft, #199 overall, in 2000.  His college career at Michigan wasn’t as good as RGIII’s at Baylor of Young’s at Texas.  At first blush, it would seem that Brady was an after-thought or a throw-away pick.  But Brady was the right person for Coach Bill Belichick’s system.  Coach Belichick has a knack for finding the right players for his systems, not necessarily the best players.

And that’s what pastors need to consider. The best visions, programs, or people may not be right for our churches.  What helped the church up the street to grow may not work in our churches.  Bringing in a star talent to the team is not necessarily the answer.  Just because something was successful somewhere else does not mean it will be successful in my church.

This is why I’ve got to be about the hard work of discerning God’s unique plan for my church… for HIS Church in this place.  As Todd Henry says in his Accidental Creative podcast: “Cover bands don’t change the world; find your unique voice if you want to thrive.”

If You Don’t Do This, You’ll Die…

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome.  (1 John 5:3)

John visits the doctor’s office for a follow-up on his annual check-up.  He knows he’s overweight, run down, and lacking energy.  He knows the doctor ran a bunch of tests and the results are in.  The doctor tells him that he had better change some things about his life.  The first thing that the doctor prescribes for John is that he start to exercise.  John had better start walking or swimming or something to better his health.  The doctor explains: if John doesn’t start to exercise, he’ll die.

Steve leaves work promptly at 5:00 pm.  There in the passenger seat of his car is his gym bag, a reminder of something he has to do.  He drives 20 minutes to his local YMCA, changes into his swim trunks, grabs his goggles and heads for the pool.  As he stands there looking over the pool he remembers his days growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan and the swims he would take there.  He remembers the freedom and joy that swimming brings to his life.  While the pool is not the same as Lake Michigan, it’ll have to do. When asked why Steve is always at the pool he explains that, if he doesn’t keep swimming, he’ll die.

Both these men are compelled to exercise.  John is motivated by fear.  If he doesn’t make this change to his life, he won’t live long.  John wants to live longer so he makes the change.  Steve, on the other hand, is motivated by joy.  Steve remembers the joy of swimming as a connection to his childhood.  Steve has found joy in swimming his entire life.  If Steve doesn’t keep swimming, he’ll die inside and miss out on his joy.

What motivates us to keep exercising? For some, it’s a fear of gaining weight, becoming sick, or dying at an early age.  Afraid of dying too soon, many people take up exercise in their middle years to stave off an untimely death or a penance for sins of over-indulgence.  For others, it’s part of their lifestyle.  They may have grown up exercising and just keep doing it “for the fun of it.”  Some people even move from one motivation to the other.  I know many folks who have started exercising, fearful of future health, only to fall in love with it.

What keeps us in our spiritual fitness?  Too many Christians view their daily devotion times like John viewed exercise.  If I don’t read my Bible every day, I’ll die.  God will strike me down or withhold His blessings. Moreover, many Christians carry a sort of quid pro quo concept to their Christian life.  If I bless God with my time, then God will bless me in my life.  If I do what God wants, God will give me what I want.  If I scratch God’s back, He’ll scratch mine.  And they also assume the opposite is true.  If I’m not blessed or happy, it must be because God is upset with me.  I don’t want God to be upset with me, therefore out of fear, I have devotions every day.

A key component of my spiritual development has been the Christian Camp.  I’ve enjoyed taking up to a week to leave the world behind and living with other Christians while soaking in as much salvation as possible.  These have been some of the most joyous times of my life.  These have been some places where I’ve made the biggest decisions of my life.  The people from camp have been my dearest friends for the largest part of my life.  I’ve always left a camp thinking, “Boy, I wish I could just live here.”  What I’ve learned over the years is that I can live there.  I can live there by making worship a regular part of my week.  I can live there by daily reading the Scriptures and praying.  I’ve learned to do all those things as a way to recapture the joy of camp.  My spiritual fitness is motivated by joy, wanting to recapture that experience every day.

I’ve met many Christians who have moved from one motivation to the other.  They started attending worship and having devotions and praying because they wanted to appease an angry God only to discover the pure joy of the Gospel, a joy that they wanted to recapture each and every day.

In my previous post, Disciples are Disciplined, I may have come across as harsh.  Phrases like “have to” are Law words, fear words, burden words.  “Have to” is often followed by “or else.”  These are not our proper motivation for discipleship and spiritual fitness.  Our motivation is always the Gospel, the truth of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. We ‘have to” hear of this love each and every day because Satan, the world, and our own sinful desires want us to believe otherwise.  Spiritual fitness is about staying connected to our joy in the same way that physical fitness can keep us connected to our youth.

What were some of your favorite activities as a child?  Where were some of your best memories made?  How can you recapture those good times every day?  I’d love to hear you comments.