If you’re wondering why there’s been precious little written on Opus in the last two weeks, the simple answer is that I’ve been sick with a beastly mix of flu, bronchitis, and sinus infection that has left me with precious little energy to do anything online-related. I’m feeling much better, so expect Opus-related activity to pick up the pace soon. In the meantime, here’s a clearinghouse of interesting articles and whatnot that I’ve been meaning to write something about, before I became a sickly mess.
In “How Can Communication Technology Encourage Civility?”, Derek Powazek suggests that the way we design websites might do something to increase online civility.
In my experience, the visual language of a website can have a huge impact on the tone of the conversation it produces. This just scratches the surface of how color theory effects participation, but it’s a good start. The core lesson is to consider the kind of interaction you seek and make sure the visual design reinforces that experience. When the interaction demands one thing (say, creativity) and the design encourages the opposite (by using red, for example), people can have a negative reaction without being aware of the connection.
Cory Doctorow’s “Teaching Computers Shows Us How Little We Understand About Ourselves” explains how something as simple as naming conventions, which we humans can navigate with relative ease, pose significant problems for computers. And he uses his own family as an example of how ambiguous and complicated names can be:
…the most interesting argument about ”real name” policies is the realization that there’s no easy single definition of ”real name” that doesn’t leave an appreciable slice of people out in the cold. Take my family, for example: our surname was Doctorovitch (or Doctorowicz, or Doctorowitch, or some other transliteration of the Cyrillic characters my grandfather’s family would have used to write down their name in Belarus, if they’d been literate and had had a lot of government forms to fill in). My father was born in Azerbaijan after his parents deserted from the Red Army. They called him Genyek, which is a diminutive form of Evgeny, though it’s not clear whether they ever called him Evgeny. It hardly matters, because they mostly called him Gadalya, a Jewish name with a bit of Yiddish and Hebrew in its origin, until he came to Canada when he was six and was given the ultra-Canadian anglicized name ”Gordon.” My dad’s father was born Avram, which was anglicized as ”Abraham” (naturally enough), but his first employer called him ”Bill,” because that was a more ”Canadian” name. It stuck, and his Canadian citizenship papers read ”Abraham William Doctorow,” though no one ever called him ”William.”
I’ve long held the opinion that visual web design editors (i.e., Dreamweaver) are inherently flawed, and that you’re far better off learning how to write HTML/CSS/JS code by hand (or with the help of a text-based IDE). Web design is simply too fluid, especially once you get into responsive web design, for visual editors. However, if this preview is any indication, Macaw might just cause me to change my mind. I’m not sure if I’d ever use it personally — I’m too wedded to a process that I’ve spent years perfecting — but for new designers, this might be a legitimate godsend.
I’ll be writing more about this for Christ and Pop Culture, but I do want to mention that Laura Hudson’s “Why You Should Think Twice Before Shaming Anyone on Social Media” is simply one of the best articles I’ve ever read about the power dynamices of social media.
Shaming, it seems, has become a core competency of the Internet, and it’s one that can destroy both lives and livelihoods. But the question of who’s responsible for the destruction — the person engaging in the behavior or the person revealing it — depends on whom you ask. At its best, social media has given a voice to the disenfranchised, allowing them to bypass the gatekeepers of power and publicize injustices that might otherwise remain invisible. At its worst, it’s a weapon of mass reputation destruction, capable of amplifying slander, bullying, and casual idiocy on a scale never before possible.
And speaking of Christ and Pop Culture, my colleagues there have churned about an impressive number of excellent pieces, but I just want to highlight two. First is “The Church Failed Millennials, Just Not In the Way You Think It Did”, Derek Rishmawy’s response to a recent, and extremely popular CNN piece by Rachel Held Evans about why millennials are leaving the church. Rishmawy writes:
And this brings me to my “plea” to fellow millennials. A lot of us are leaving the church. For some of us, this is simply finding out we never really had anything more than a superficial “faith” in the first place. Others of us really love Jesus, but are fed up and frustrated with the church we grew up with. My question for you is: have you prayed for her? Have you really served her? Do you love her? Have you struggled to see her the way Christ sees her, as the bride He was willing to lay Himself down for, even to the point of death to cover her sins and make her whole?
Second is “Canceling the Apocalypse? Cosmic Monsters and Tiny Humans in ‘Pacific Rim’ ”, Geoffrey Reiter’s excellent piece on H.P. Lovecraft’s influence, or lack thereof, on Guillermo del Toro’s recent giant robots vs. aliens smash-up movie.
Where del Toro parts company with Lovecraft’s cosmicism, however, is in his love of, and interest in, humanity. While his friends would not have characterized him as a misanthrope, Lovecraft maintained that the human race was ultimately entirely insignificant and that to deny this insignificance was intellectually dishonest. To that end, the characters in Lovecraft’s works are almost exclusively bland. Though some of his protagonists exhibit an autobiographical curiosity about the terrible unknown, Lovecraft deliberately leaves them underdeveloped. Dialogue is sparse and mostly functional when it comes; women in general, and love interests in particular, are almost wholly absent. But none of this is an accident: Lovecraft doesn’t want you to care about his characters because he doesn’t care about his characters, because the cosmos his characters inhabit doesn’t care about them.
Mere Orthodoxy’s Jake Meador also wrote a good response to Evans, titled “Speaking Prophetically to the Church or Publicly Criticizing the Church?”.
I think perhaps we could be spared a lot of silliness if we simply made hymns like “The Church’s One Foundation,” and “For All the Saints,” a more regular part of our liturgies (and, to be sure, if we sang them with people who annoy us, bother us, or disagree with us). Prophets speak affectionately from within, they love the church as she is, but also long for her to be what God has called her to be. And so they say things that can seem harsh, difficult, or excessively strict. But they do it within the context of relational intimacy, which allows those things to be received within the history of that relationship, and so you can sense both the anger and the hope in equal measures. Where many of the hand-wringing posts from the post-evangelicals go wrong is in failing to recognize this intimacy and in their insistence to speak of the church as if they are outside it.
You might’ve heard about the recent kerfuffle involving the Presbyterian Church, USA’s vote to exclude the popular hymn “In Christ Alone” from their hymnal because it included the phrase “the wrath of God.” First Thing’s Timothy George considers this to be part of a larger trend in the Church, and that we have the concept of a wrathful God all wrong. In “No Squishy Love”, he writes:
The problem comes when we use an anthropopathic term like “wrath” and apply it univocally to the God of eternity. Before long, we have constructed “a god who looks like me,” to use the title of a recent book of feminist theology. Then caricatures of divine wrath proliferate: God having a temper tantrum or acting like a big bully who needs to be “appeased” before he can forgive or, as is often alleged with reference to the atonement, practicing cosmic child abuse.
But God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s wrath is not like our wrath. Indeed, in his brilliant essay, “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God,” British scholar Tony Lane explains that “the love of God implies his wrath. Without his wrath God simply does not love in the sense that the Bible portrays his love.” God’s love is not sentimental; it is holy. It is tender, but not squishy. It involves not only compassion, kindness, and mercy beyond measure (what the New Testament calls grace) but also indignation against injustice and unremitting opposition to all that is evil.
And finally, here’s something that ought to blow your mind: “The human brain produces in 30 seconds as much data as the Hubble Space Telescope has produced in its lifetime.”
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.