Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Anthem vs. 1 Cor 12

I have a few friends who have been reading Atlas Shrugged and I realized that I've never read anything by Ayn Rand. I was in a used bookstore and I found a copy of Anthem for $2 and decided to pick it up to see what all of the fuss was about.

It's an earlier work and rather short, but I quite enjoyed the first 90 pages or so. Basically the story is set in a post apocalyptic society that is all about "the brotherhood" and has completely removed the notion of self from the world. Even the word "I" is forbidden (and unknown). Everyone refers to themselves as "we" and even personal relationships are forbidden, as you are not to value one person above another.

The book is a fascinating look at the communist ideals applied to a futuristic society. The last ten pages or so are where the book gets its title, as our hero discovers the word "I" and it becomes little more than a worship of the self, completely rejecting any notion of collective good or value in anyone other than one's own self. After reading this book (it took little more than 30 minutes to read) I set it aside and opened up to the passage I had planned to read before bed. It made me smile:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” - (1 Corinthians 12:12–31 ESV)

The Christian faith absolutely does not diminish the value of the one, the value of the individual, but rather exalts every person as uniquely formed in the image of God. At the same time, we are not meant to be alone, and we are better when we work together. God has given us each different talents and gifts, and to function at our best we need to involve others to do what we are not able to do well.

This is directly contrary to the message at the end of Anthem, that is essentially all about the "I" with no regard at all for anyone else. When reading a book like Anthem, it's striking how distasteful it is when the worship of self is put on display. I genuinely disliked the last ten pages of the book despite enjoying it up to that point. We are called to be servants, to treat others better than ourselves. In the words of Jesus:

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” - (Mark 10:45 ESV)


Friday, October 14, 2011


Although RefreshCache is generally a meeting of Arena developers, this year two guys that work on BVCMS were invited to present as well. This provided me with a great opportunity to see bvcms and ask questions of Dave Carroll who is the primary driver behind bvcms and the owner of bvcms.com, an organization offering hosting, service and support for bvcms.

BVCMS was the internal database project of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. After putting a lot of time and money into its development, their elders decided to release it as an open source project in April of 2009.

It's impossible to tell how many churches are using bvcms because anyone can download it, install it and get it running without telling anyone; however, bvcms.com has 74 churches that are using the database and paying for their support. Additionally, Dave said there are at least five churches that have contacted him for some assistance that are not clients of bvcms.com, meaning the real number is probably right around 80. Six of these clients have over 5000 records in their databases (averaging 18,347), and 51 have fewer than 1000 records. This data indicates that bvcms is becoming a web based database of choice for smaller churches, but scales well enough to be used by some of the largest churches in the country.

One of the things I did not realize about bvcms until this week is that it is available as a fully hosted and supported solution through bvcms.com. This means that you don't have to have a big IT staff and a group of programmers to run bvcms at your church.

After the initial release by Bellevue, the banner of BVCMS has been carried by David Carroll & bvcms.com. If I understand it correctly, the lion's share of development since 2009 has been done by David himself. At RefreshCache 2011 David said some of the keys to making this possible were a methodology of do the simplest thing that could work, avoid complexity unless necessary, don't repeat yourself and don't build things you're not going to need. David details his approach to development on his blog under the title Agile Methodology.

David also uses a novel approach to support that I really like. He takes support questions by email, writes the answer on the wiki and then replies with the link to the wiki. By doing this he insures that the wiki continually grows with valuable information on how to solve real world problems, and he doesn't spend time rehashing the same solutions over and over again. As a bonus, that creates a nice documentation library for anyone to access on how to use the software.

The biggest shortfall that I can see with bvcms support is that there is no set of community forums for the churches that are using bvcms to help each other and discuss things. With the open source nature of bvcms any church could set one of these up, but so far it does not exist. Based on our experience with the Arena community, this is a big loss. Hopefully as this product grows this shortfall will be addressed.

Because bvcms is open source, you can investigate it yourself if you have the IT staff or expertise to pull it off. All you need to do is download the code and then follow the directions that are posted on Dave's development blog.

So, what does bvcms offer? Quite a lot actually. Aside from the usual basic chms requirements, it has a very nice query builder, online registration, a check-in solution, iphone app, etc. In short, bvcms stacks up nicely against the rest of the market, with the huge benefit of being free out of the gate.

Unlike most of the solutions, there is zero risk to test out bvcms. From bvcms.com you can watch video demos on a lot of the basic features, and then connect to a demo site you can play with. If you want to investigate further, you can download the source and install it and start playing on your own.

There are two ways to run bvcms. The first approach is the traditional open source approach. Download it, install it, and start using it! This is a solid option if you have the technical expertise to pull it off, and if you have programmers on staff or volunteers, you can begin to customize the product and make it your own. The second approach is to contact bvcms.com about getting setup as one of their customer churches, and letting them do all the heavy lifting. Either way, bvcms is a solid option in your search for the right ChMS for your church.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

RefreshCache Reflections

It's almost midnight on Tuesday, and RefreshCache is officially over. RefreshCache was an opportunity to rub shoulders with and learn from the collective wisdom of over 30 individuals representing eighteen of the finest churches in the country.

When we talked about making it a requirement that you had to present to attend, we wondered if it would put a drag on attendance, and if people would step up to the plate. Well, this was the largest group we've ever had for RefreshCache, and people didn't just step up to the plate, they hit it out of the park!

I would say that requiring everyone to present was the best move we could ever do. The end result was that everyone gave, and everyone learned. HDC got some great ideas on how to make Arena better, how to make our website better, and how to be more effective at the things we do. Personally, the time given to me by Tom Powers to help me learn performance tuning was priceless. His expertise and patience as we slogged through a particularly frustrating issue was amazing, and our church will benefit every day going forward with what I learned from him.

I really enjoyed seeing bvcms and getting to know David and Jeremy a bit as well. This is an important new player in the church software market, and I look forward to sharing my review of it with you when it is finished.

This week also presented some wonderful personal ministry opportunities and great time building relationships with some of the brightest technical minds in the church field.

RefreshCache 4.0 is only a year away, but I look forward to seeing how next year can be even better!


Monday, October 10, 2011

ChMS - RefreshCache 2011

We are in Gilbert, AZ for refreshcache 2011. This is the third year for this gathering, put on by our friends at Central Christian Church. The purpose of refreshcache is to encourage and motivate developers in the area of Church Management Software, mostly centered around Arena. We also had a presentation from David Carroll on bvcms, a product that I have not yet written up on this site. More to follow in another post.

One of the requirements we added this year on all attendees this year was that every church needed to present at least once, if possible. This was initially met with some fear and trepidation but the end result is that RC2011 is incredibly rich and feels like a community effort rather than a few people disseminating knowledge.

Collaboration seems to be the overarching theme of the gathering. One of the things that has really struck me lately is how much better things go when we work together and involve other people. The monday sessions started off with Derek Neighbors talking about collaboration as the second phase of creativity.

After some technical sessions, David Turner showed us some of the awesome things they have been working on at CCV, and then Jon Edmiston got up and challenged us all to work on "Google Car" levels of innovation in the church software field. Jon had very practical things we can all do to make ourselves better, and I really respect Jon as a guy who never stops learning and pushing forward.

One of Jon's closing statements was that we need to focus on major features, not incremental upgrades. While incremental changes are not a bad thing, they take away time and attention from making the next great thing, and church software has a long way to go before we hit real maturity in the innovation sector.

Jon closed with "one more thing" announcing the Spark Development Network, which is a non-profit devoted to developing open source software for the church environment. Their first project is an open source ChMS product simply called Rock.

This obviously is huge news, and I'll post more on it later.

Great meetings so far, looking forward to the rest!


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs Died Today

In 1981 or so I used a computer for the first time. It was an Apple ][. Soon thereafter I was exposed to the TI 99/4a, the Atari 800 and even the cheapest computer of the era, the Timex Sinclair 1000. At the time it was just exciting to use a computer, any computer at all. I had no idea that thirty years later I would still be using Apple products.

The Apple II was the product of the genius of Steve Wozniak and the vision and marketing talents of a very young Steve Jobs. In 1983 we bought our first computer, an Apple //e and I have never looked back. I watched the ugly split with Apple in the 80's, and was in the audience at the MacWorld Keynote when Jobs returned to Apple.

Many have referred to Jobs 2.0 as the best CEO ever for any company. It's quite an accolade, but when you consider that Apple was near death and trading at around $13 per share when he took over, and Apple is now consistently vying for the position of the largest capitalized company in the world.

It's very appropriate that I am writing this on an iMac, one of the brain childs of Steve Jobs. I got the news on my iPhone, another product of his relentless vision and search for perfection. And when I tell my wife about it, she will undoubtably look up the news on her iPad, the most recent success story. Although one of it's two founders has passed, the company they started continues.

It is a sad day. Jobs will be missed.