Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Church and Science

I heard a great interview on NPR's Here and Now program the other day about Guy Consolmagno, a Vatican astronomer that received the Carl Sagan Medal. Dr. Consolmagno is a Jesuit that planned on teaching at a Jesuit college but instead was sent Vatican City initially and now works for at of the Church's observatories. The interview covered topics in religion and science and was very thought provoking for me. Here's a link to the story which includes the audio:

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Augsburg Confession Biblical References Part 2

I did some more reading on uses of Gephi, particularly this post on Facebook Network Analysis. I'm really just learning how to use this software and a very powerful feature for analysis is included that I didn't know about earlier: network analysis. Network analysis looks at a set of data and sorts the nodes into categories or sub-networks based on the connections between the nodes. In Gephi this is done with modularity plugin and the results can be very interesting. Not only are the results more visually appealing but the conclusions and directions for further research are more readily apparent.

Here is an updated network graph of the biblical references in the Augsburg Confession.
You can explore this graph interactively here.
When I prepared this graph I did a few things differently. The first major change is the layout chosen for the nodes. In my initial work I used a layout algorithm that tried to fit everything into a spherical pattern which looks nice but doesn't group things by how well they are related in particular. The new graph uses the "Force Atlas" algorithm. As you can see it groups the nodes by how closely they are related so visually browsing the data is much more effective. I also ran the modularity algorithm on the data which allows you to color code the nodes based on the categories that it finds. For this work I asked the software to find eight categories since that is the default.

The combination of the different layout and the color coding makes a few things immediately apparent.

There are two articles named Concerning Confession, one of them is doctrinal in nature and the other suggests reforms. It doesn't take network analysis to guess that these would be related. What is interesting from the graph, however is how far they are from the other articles. Of the verses referenced in these two articles, only Psalm 119:50 is referenced in another, Article 28 Concerning the Church's Power.

There are a few articles which are further removed from the others and stand alone; Concerning Justification, Concerning the New Obedience and Concerning the Church. The only one of these which is grouped with another article is Concerning the Church which has been placed with Concerning Faith and Good Works because they both reference Ephesians. This group also contains a third article, Concerning the Cause of Sin which also only references one verse from John. A more rigorous analysis of the texts of these three articles would show how closely these are related in language and content.

Two articles which do share similar viewpoints and are grouped together using this method are Concerning the Marriage of Priests and Concerning Monastic Vows. Despite the fact that these articles only reference one verse in common, 1 Corinthians 7:2, the modularity algorithm placed them in the same group and the layout algorithm has them near each other probably because of the relationships between these articles and others that they share more in common with in terms of references. It is interesting to see that they are placed together based on what the models know which is only biblical references and not based on actual content. The content of these articles is very similar however as they both deal with changes to monastic culture although one speaks particularly to the celibate lifestyle of priests and the other speaks to issues regarding the vows of monks.

As I learn more about the capabilities of the Gephi software it is becoming a much more useful and powerful tool for analysis. I plan to do some more research on this topic from both a technology and the theology point of view and will keep reporting what I find.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

An analysis of Bible references in the Augsburg Confession

I'm taking Lutheran Confessions this semester and we just read the Augsburg Confession. Many of the articles include Biblical References so I decided to do some analysis of them and if anything interesting could be found.

For those of you not familiar with the Augsburg Confession it was written by Philip Melanchthon beginning in 1529. The original document was presented at the Diet of Augsburg on June 25th, 1530 in both German and Latin. It was read in German so that the people of Augsburg could understand it but was printed in Latin for submission to Emperor Charles in Latin, as he did not know German. It was later expanded slightly and published in 1531. The purpose of the document was a defense of the positions being taken by Martin Luther and his followers who were attempting to reform the Catholic Church. While the two versions are very similar the wordings in some are different. Surprisingly there are some variations in the biblical references and for the purposes of this research I included references found in both the German and Latin texts.

The confession consists of twenty eight articles; the first twenty one articles set out the doctrinal positions of the reformers and the next seven discuss suggested reforms for the church. The document plays a dual role of defining positions of a movement but also condemning other reform movements at the same time. The Editor' Introduction in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church includes the following: "In doing so [Melanchthon] sought to show that the theology taught in Wittenberg remained true to the catholic tradition, both by stating the biblical truth and by condemning false teachings also rejected by Roman Catholic opponents." (Kolb, Robert, Timothy J Wengert, and Charles P Arand. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000. 28)

Of the twenty eight articles there are biblical references in eighteen:
4 Concerning Justification
6 Concerning the New Obedience
7 Concerning the Church
8 What Is the Church
11 Concerning Confession
12 Concerning Repentence
16 Concerning Civic Affairs
18 Concerning Free Will
19 Concerning the Cause of Sin
20 Concerning Faith and Good Works
21 Concerning the Cult of the Saints
22 Concerning Both Kinds
23 Concerning the Marriage of Priests
24 Concerning the Mass
25 Concerning Confession
26 Concerning the Distinction of Foods
27 Concerning Monastic Vows
28 Concerning the Church's Power

Within these articles there are a total of seventy seven references to twenty one books of the Bible:

Relationships between articles and books
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 John
1 Peter
1 Timothy

Relationship between articles and book chapters
The image shows a network diagram that indicates the connections between articles and the books of the Bible that they reference. I chose to create this kind of graph because it can make discerning connections between nodes more apparent. By studying this graph it is possible to see which articles rely on material from the same books and it is also immediately clear which article references the most number of books, Article XXVIII Concerning the Church's Power. The weight of the lines is based on the number of connections so you can also see that this article references 2 Corinthians more than other books. We can also see that the books of Matthew and 1 Corinthians are referenced by seven articles but most are only referenced by one.

Since many of the books in the Bible cover more than one topic I thought it would be useful to go down another level and look at the book and chapter references. When looking at this level there are fifty four unique references so the network graph of connections between articles and references will get more complicated.

Since there are so many more nodes in this graph it becomes more difficult to easily spot relationships. The chapters which only have one reference are moved to the outside of the graph so those are quickly apparent. Looking at nodes closer to the center of the graph we can see that Acts 5, for instance, has connections to both Article XVI Concerning Civic Affairs and Article XVIII Concerning the Church's Power. We can also see that Matthew 15 has three connections of varying weight so it is possible to discern that is more heavily referenced than other chapters.

Going another layer deeper things get even more confusing. I tried looking at the book, chapter and starting verse of the references and the graph becomes so populated that it is very difficult to distinguish much of meaning. However, by removing the labels and tweaking the settings of the software you can make a pretty picture.

In a future post I'll share how I developed these graphs and include some of the data that went into creating them.

Update: thanks to Todd Bryant I discovered that these graphs can be exported so they can be explored without the Gephi software. I have posted them here:
Article to Book References
Article to Book and Chapter References
Article to Book, Chapter and Verse References

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Buddhism and "The Gift of Men"

I was reading the introductory chapter on Buddhism in Finding God Among Our Neighbors earlier today and was struck by the description of Dr. Largen's description of the Buddha's final moments:
"The Buddha lived and taught for eighty years, choosing for himself when it was time for him to end his life and attain final nirvana. He entered into final meditation peacefully, lying on his side, surrounded by all manner of animals, disciples, and even gods..."[79]
For those that aren't familiar with Buddhism or may have an incorrect knowledge of it, nirvana can be described as a release from the cycle of samsara or the cyclical nature of our universe. The reason I was struck by this passage is because although I was familiar with the concepts of samsara and nirvana before reading this chapter I did not remember hearing the description of Buddha's death, if we can use that term for his final moments. The way Dr. Largen phrased Buddha's choice also brought this passage from a favorite book of mine to mind:
"Nay, lady, I am the last of the Númenóreans and the latest King of the Elder Days; and to me has been given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but also the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift. Now, therefore, I will sleep."
 This passage is of course from The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien. The reason this came to mind was the gift that Aragorn refers to is what is called "The Gift of Men." The Gift of Men was given to humans by Ilúvatar and part of the gift was the ability to lay down at the time of their choosing and die. The Kings of Númenór had the custom of using this gift to escape Middle Earth before they became too feeble to rule and this is exactly what Aragorn was doing when he lay down and slept. Another aspect of the Gift of Men was a complete release from Middle Earth which is opposed to the Elves which have their immortality. While immortality may seem like a greater gift the Elves came in time to be jealous of the Gift of Men because their immortality lead to a longing for release due to the ages of care and woe they would experience as the millennia wore on.

While Middle Earth does not have a cyclical nature like the Buddhists believe in, I was struck by this similarity between the religion and the story. In both there are the very wise which have the ability to choose their own time to depart their world. These very wise are the leaders of the people and they are given a great amount of dignity to deal with how and when they depart the mortal coil, and I find that a wonderful and enlightening coincidence.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Theodicy and A Song of Ice and Fire

One of the assignments my MAR Keynote course in January was to write a paper that engaged a theological loci with popular culture. For my paper I wrote on theodicy and engaged with George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. The title of the paper is "Theodicy and a Song of Ice and Fire, or Why do so many bad things happen to the Starks?" It is a very brief treatment of the topic and only addresses a potential theodicy surrounding the old gods worshipped by the Stark family but I thought some folks might enjoy reading it.

The paper is embedded in an iframe below. If the iframe isn't visible the paper is also available via Google Drive.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Religion and Digital Technologies

Last week I attended a one day conference at The Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University titled Religion and Digital Technologies. It was an interesting conference and I wanted to share some notes and observations from the talks. Some of the speakers employed more technologies in the research than others and I'm only highlighting things here that I found especially interesting.

The first speaker was John Boy from CUNY. His subject of research is church plants in Europe and part of his research necessitated searching websites for specific subject matter. He used data from which provides "an open repository of web crawl data that can be accessed and analyzed by everyone." The data is accessible via the Amazon Cloud so John had to do some coding in order to perform his research.

A few of the speakers used Amazon's Mechanical Turk service at various points in their research. The Mechanical Turk allows you to create small jobs which they call Human Intelligence Tasks or "HITs" that you pay workers to complete. One speaker used Mechanical Turk to find websites for over six thousand non-profit organizations so that she could analyze their websites (the IRS provided the organizations but not the websites). Other speakers had used the service to field test surveys, which was an interesting concept. An unexpected conversation around Mechanical Turk was the ethics of using a service that pays workers the equivalent of less than $2/hour of labor.

Thomas Carlson from Princeton spoke about the challenges of developing a hierarchy to classify religions as part of the project. They felt a need to classify religions in some way in order to enhance the search methods available on the site but things get messy very quickly when you start to consider the different possibilities. There weren't any clear cut ways to setup a meaningful hierarchy so the project is still looking for a good solution to the issue. A term which came out of this discussion that I enjoyed was "fuzzy specificity" which refers to using dates (and other data) that we aren't sure about.

Joseph Blankholm spoke about a website which came out of a class on the religion life in Harlem. The site has lost much functionality due to maintenance issues but everyone agreed that it was a wonderful idea. Students in the class were tasked with visiting sites of religious significance in Harlem and blogging about them. The blog posts were geolocated and the website had a map showing the blog posts by location. Joseph shared that the students got a lot out of the course and the professors had hoped to use the site as a resource for future classes but that didn't turn out as they planned. We had a discussion around the value of maintaining digital work like this and why it isn't always necessary to move course work into a permanent repository, and indeed why sometimes that would be problematic.

Marcus Bingenheimer from Temple shared some challenges that arose when digitizing Dunhuang Manuscripts. An interesting part of this discussion was how complex text encoding can become when you are working with non-western languages.

Ben Johnston and Michael Myers, both from Princeton, spoke about two projects they collaborated on and Ben mentioned a term that he holds to and I really liked. The concept is called "modest DH" (digital humanities) and it speaks to not using the technology to dazzle the audience but to make sure there is a focus on functionality. The point of digital humanities should be to allow great research and interpretation, not necessarily make things look awesome. There is a place for design and for sites meant for a broad public audience that's important, but when working on sites intended for scholars flashy elements should be left behind.

Overall I found the day enjoyable and picked up some great resources and areas that I'd like to spend more time on. If you have any questions about the day's topics, please feel free to leave a comment.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Inter-religious Dialogue Prezi

In class last week Dr. Largen covered three reasons why Christians should practice inter-religious dialogue. The reasons started with ourselves as Christians, cycled through other religions, God and then came back to Christians in a way that reminded me of the three arrows in the recycling logos. I turned this idea over in my head for a few days (turned over, recycling, get it, ha ha) and finally put together a Prezi to illustrate it. Unfortunately you can't embed Prezi presentations in Blogger so I'll have to link to it:

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The value of silence

I just read an interesting piece on the effects of iPhones on our neurology by Ian H. Robertson:

The big takeaway I took from the article was the need for silence after learning something new. Since I'm still in the religious mindset from class this morning I of course started to think about how this applies to worship settings. The traditional liturgy has times of silence built into it and I'm wondering if this tradition has carried into contemporary services at all. My recollection from the few that I have attended is that there was not much time for silence. This is probably because society seems to be losing its willingness to suffer silence so the designers of new worship liturgies have removed them. The evidence would suggest that this silence is more valuable than we thought.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Why I link to Worldcat

We make choices every day and one of the things that I have learned while at seminary is to try and look at the deeper meaning behind our choices and to really think deeply about our actions. One choice you have to make when blogging involves what to do when mentioning a book. It seems like the norm on the internet is to link to the book's Amazon page. On many levels this makes good sense

  • if someone is reading your blog then there's a very good chance they will know about Amazon
  • they are a trusted seller on the internet
  • it is very rare to find books that aren't listed and available on Amazon
Personally when it comes to books I prefer Barnes and Noble. I still enjoy going to a brick and mortar store to peruse the shelves and I realize the financial realities that they need to also sell books online in order to keep those physical locations open. Because of that I used to link to the pages for books instead of

The more I thought about this practice, however, the more I started to question my motivations. I also gave some thought to the explicit and implicit messages I was sending to whoever clicked on the link I had made. I was certainly endorsing whichever company I linked to and recommending their services to those that trusted me enough to read my words. But what wasn't I saying at the same time? What options were being left out?

Whenever I mention a book title I have now made the choice to link to Worldcat. Worldcat is "the world's largest library catalog" and links to libraries worldwide. Because the website can find your location geographically they can find the libraries closest to you that have the book you are viewing. I feel that linking to this kind of resource sends a different message, and it is one that speaks a message about community and not capitalism. The Library used to be as much the center of community as the church, but many local libraries no longer have the funding they need to stay viable and are closing. One of the reasons they are closing is because people just aren't going to the Library anymore so local municipalities don't feel the need to provide funding. Also, the library doesn't have the opportunity to build relationships with local donors.

If more of us start directing our readers to the local library instead of the huge booksellers, that might change. In my opinion more community is a good thing, more relationship with the others around us is a good thing. And that's why I link to Worldcat.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Hey God

Yesterday we talked about being in relationship with God (it's really been a theme of the entire week, I guess) and the language we use for God came up during the lecture at some point. I was reminded about a woman from Pittsburgh that would sometimes open her prayers by saying "Hey God...". She spoke this unconventional prayer opening once and said that it helped to remind her that she has a deeply personal relationship with God and that she needs to remember that even though God is much greater than her, God is still close to her like an earthly parent. Looking back I think it's wonderful that she had this insight and was also able to share this comfort with the rest of us.

I just read "A Big Heart Open to God" from America and while there were many interesting thoughts there I wanted to highlight Pope Francis' thoughts on art. It's worth seeing who he lifts up as authors and artists and he mentions a particular piece by Mozart, so of course I had to find a performance of it on YouTube. I have listened to three performances of Et Incarnatus Est at this point and have loved each one. Here's the one playing right now:

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Can you Google troth?

I read an interesting blog post on the NYTimes today by Haider Javed Warraich titled When Doctors ‘Google’ Their Patients. As I was reading it I started to wonder what would happen if we replaced doctors with pastors and patients with parishioners. I can imagine that this is happening already in the world already, although I have a feeling that pastors might not be as willing to discuss it as this doctor was. For some reason it seems like an even larger violation of trust in my eyes.

In his book "To know as we are known : a spirituality of education"Parker Palmer talks about truth which comes from relationships and a deeper knowing that we can attain when we really enter into an understanding with a subject. This deep relationship leads to "troth" between the two subjects, which is a covenant that binds the two together. This relationship is possible because God knows us first.

When pastors enter a relationship with members of their congregation there should be intent to build those relationships to the point of gaining this kind of troth. Part of this relationship should include an honesty and openness on both sides which I think should mean we don't have to Google in order to know. Dr. Warraich is saying the same thing about the doctor patient relationship, I think. Doctors should be speaking with their patients and asking the right kinds of questions and patients should be answering truthfully and not holding anything back. This is the only way that trust can be gained between both parties and truth can be learned which leads to troth.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Webcam video from January 7, 2014 9:49 PM

In light of today's discussion I made a Vlog post instead of a blog post today.

Monday, January 06, 2014

What's on the front page?

One of our readings for the MAR Keynote course is from Heidi A. Campbell, titled Understanding the Relationship between Religion Online and Offline in a Networked Society. The article is quite long and covers a wide range of other literature (the references section is eight pages long!) but gives an interesting look at some of the differences and similarities between how religion is practiced both offline and online. Dr. Campbell lays out five central traits of what she terms "networked religion:" networked community, stored identity, shifting authority, convergent practice, and multisite reality.

The section that I found most interesting was on shifting authority and in particular there is one passage that I wanted to lift up for thought: "It is recognized that the structure of web sites and discussion forums offers a platform of influence often not available to users offline, as they become interpreters of religious belief and culture online." (page 11). This made me pause and consider how the structure our a church's website may relate to what that church is trying to say and to whom it is saying it. This topic is also discussed in the Click 2 Save book that I mentioned yesterday.

When my church first started to talk about setting up a website I encouraged that those involved with the design be very intentional about the entire thing. Unfortunately there was very little interest in being involved and I ended up putting together the site myself quickly. The result is a very basic site with quite limited functionality. My initial intention was to provide the information that I thought was most pertinent to people that are searching the web for churches to visit, so I included our address and when we worship. Since that first debut I have added a nicer cover photo and we now have archived recordings of sermons, so the audience may have widened to include parishioners that couldn't attend and want to listen to the message, but for the most part there really isn't much content there.

In light of this I'm now wondering what a fresh pair of eyes sees when they view our website. If the major thing we are presenting is where and when we meet, what does that say about our message? Does it say anything about us at all?

Sunday, January 05, 2014

MAR Keynote Course - getting things started

Despite my best intentions I have not made any blog posts since last January when they were required for my 21st Century Media and Religion course. My one solace is that most of my classmates also haven't been updating their blogs, so that does help a little.

One of the reasons that I haven't been posting is my personal struggles with my online brand. In their book Click2Save Elizabeth Drescher and Keith Anderson speak to this. One of the things they talk about is how your online presence is going to be a mix of your personal and professional lives but I'm still not comfortable with that entirely. Part of me has avoided blogging on technology topics here because I'm not sure what the audience will be (I have posted on technology topics on other forums like, but then I also don't put effort into blogging religious topics because frankly most of my efforts on that front go into class work.

Regardless, here I am taking another course that requires blogging so at least for another week things will be active in this space again. Perhaps this time I'll get more into the habit of blogging and will also become more comfortable with a mixing of my technological and theological selves. I'm hoping that this course will lead me to resources that will help with that process. I can already see that there is a lot of discussion happening in the area of media and religion but so far I have not been plugged into the right people and places where those discussions are happening.

We have already been exposed to a few people that I'm sure I'll want to read more from, including one of our professors Dr. Mary Hess. I just finished reading her paper titled "Mirror Neurons, The Development Of Empathy, And Digital Story Telling" in which she briefly discussed the differences between sympathy and empathy and urges that as Christians we should prefer empathy. I found this interesting in light of recent news that Facebook is testing a "Sympathize" button. If Facebook were to provide a function to sympathize with others how would we approach that from a Christian perspective? Are the subtleties between sympathy and empathy too little to urge Facebook to provide different functionality? Would the majority of Christians put enough distinction between the words to justify the need? Incidentally, Mark Zuckerberg is reportedly an atheist, so would he even care if Christians urge a distinction?

These are interesting questions that I'm hoping to develop the tools to help try and answer.