My 2.5 days in San Francisco: MX 2010

Red stone church near green trees, surrounded by skyscrapers.
View from top of Yerbe Buena Gardens, San Francisco, March 2010.

Saturday PM: Sunshine!

I actually began to sweat under my blazer from the warm sun shining brightly through the window.

I had arrived in San Francisco a little early on Saturday, dropped my suitcase off at the Intercontinental Hotel, and walked around the corner to a sandwich shop for a bite to eat and to get online. As I draped my coat over the back of the chair, I decided I really like San Francisco. It’s the sun, I admit it. Oh, and I had already noted that the two billboards I noticed on the taxi from the airport were pure tech: one for an enterprise search system and another for PGP. Billboards talking to me? Amazing.

After settling in at the hotel, I had dinner with my old colleague Chris Burley and his girfriend at a nice Italian restaurant. Chris is awesome. I love talking with him because he has such passion for what he does, which currently is to help lead efforts like urban farming in the Bay area.

Sunday AM: 3 good things

The next morning I woke early due to the time zone difference, and I had three excellent experiences:

  1. In the aching fog of caffeine deprivation, had the best cup of coffee of my life, thanks to the Blue Bottle Café. (I admit, I ordered a second cup to go.)
  2. Paused in the Yerbe Buena Gardens where some elderly practiced tai chi and parents snapped photos as their little children hid behind a waterfall. I stood on a bridge and watched the morning sun ripple on the glass of San Francisco skyscrapers.
  3. Crashed a church service at a music venue called Mezzanine put on by a group that calls itself IKON. I was the oldest person there, amidst a crowd of art school students. We sang, we listened to a teaching from the Word, we had communion. It was good.

Sunday PM: MX day 1

Sunday afternoon saw the start of the 2010 MX Conference.

MX2010 is largely focused on managing user experience and less on the tactical end of UX practice, and there were some thought-provoking presentations from people who have been managing user experience for a number of years, in a number of different types of companies. Off the top of my head, presenters represented firms in financial industries (Vanguard), publishing (Harvard Business Review), retail sporting goods, and online media (Youtube).

The series of talks was fantastic, and was kicked off with a keynote by Jared Spool in which he shared insights like that Gallup’s Customer Engagement (CE11) metric has high correlation to the quality of user experience. Spool’s keynote actually turned out to predict some themes that carried throughout the many presentations. Among them were the importance of establishing a vision for user experience and that experience ultimately must be addressed well across multiple channels (web, mobile, physical space, etc.).

Spool talked about three core attributes necessary for great user experience: Vision, Feedback, and Culture. He posed three questions that UX managers should ask.

  1. VISION: Can everyone on the team describe the experience of using your design 5 years from now?
  2. FEEDBACK: In the last six weeks have you spent more than two hours watching someone use your design or a competitor’s design?
  3. CULTURE: In the last six weeks have you rewarded a team member for creating a major design failure?

After the conference reception, I wound down the evening by taking a walk around a few blocks and ending at a nearby bar. I ate a burger and watched the Academy Awards for a while. Back at the hotel I watched the end of a Clint Eastwood Western flick and fell asleep.

Monday AM+PM: MX day 2

I woke at 4 in the morning. I checked analytics, email, and my usual RSS feeds. I stretched, washed, dressed, and still had time to kill. I read a few chapters in The Shack, a book Adam gave me last week.

I chatted throughout the day with Haakon, a usability specialist attending from the design company Tarantell in Norway, and as he sipped his coffee, I decided to not mention my mere three hour time difference.

The rest of the day was another series of excellent presentations. Themes: customer (more than user) experience, vision that guides the business, new models for working in the network, UX leadership stories from Youtube, customer experience in renovation of thinking at Harvard Business Review Online, understanding the holistic customer, data-driven design decisions (and when not to rely on data for design decisions), experience design as business strategy, and operating as a chief experience officer in your company.

It was great to hear first-hand the stories from these user experience leaders. Now, for what to do with it all when returning to the office.

Tomorrow and then

Tomorrow morning I fly back to Michigan, and need to get my head back into product owner and user experience work. But I also need to hold onto the ideas from this conference, and shift into actively leading user (or is that customer) experience work at Covenant Eyes.

Young Earth Creationism—huh?

In my last post, I ended with the thought that I may settle into a small Baptist church nearby.

Well, last weekend I attended the evening service and the pastor used the message to express his belief that the earth was created between 6 and 10,000 years ago.

Now, I’ve never looked into the young earth view of creationism, so I sat there trying to keep an open mind. As a believer, I cannot rule out miraculous acts of God.

The thing is, I’m not sure exactly what to believe on the topic of creation. There are portions of Genesis that I don’t understand, so I’m willing to listen.

However, as the pastor proceeded, the attitude he expressed about the position bothered me. There was a mere 1 area of scripture he cited, in Genesis 1:6–8 when God was proceeding with creation on the 2nd day:

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

Whenever I’ve read that passage, I have trouble understanding what exactly this “firmament” is. And what did the waters look like? So, there was much water, and this thing called “Heaven” separated water above from water below.  Is this even something on the earth? Is this some part of Christian cosmology that I don’t understand? How does this act sit in the whole series of creation? I only have questions.

The pastor referred to a theory that the firmament is 11 miles up in the atmosphere and refers to a thin shell around the earth of supercooled hydrogen, creating something like a greenhouse of the earth, with pink light as the sunlight came through that firmament. (What’s this, the tropopause?)

This theory can then extend to explaining dinosaurs  who need to eat the huge vegetation, the soothing pink light explains lion laying down with lamb, and the fracturing of that shell releasing the waters above explains the great flood.

It’s a weird idea, and a fascinating concept to entertain.

So, the attitude. The pastor was referring to a few scientists who posited these ideas and claiming them as “scientific fact.” Further, he also cited the a news account from the Illustrated London News in the 1800s about some construction workers coming across a living pterodactyl while blasting a tunnel.

The problem I have is the inconsistency in using these two sources as a reliable argument for the young earth creationist perspective. If you choose to claim “scientific fact” how can you ignore all the other “scientific facts” that point to alternate explanations? Personally, my view of “scientific fact” is that only a very elementary view of science would claim such theories as “fact.” Science history is riddled with facts that have been found lacking, so any claim to scientific fact, to me, sounds naive.

And I probably don’t have to explain why citing a news article from the 1800s should not prove anything. I don’t believe everything I read in newsprint now, so why should I trust something written in a newspaper in the 1800s? That’s just silly. Especially when the goal is to substantiate something so important as a question about how the heaven and the earth came into existence.

I expect pastors to be clearheaded about what they believe, but in his message he seemed desperate to find evidence to support his view of creation, which is surely a stretch by what is shown in scripture.

How much of an issue is this to me? Well, what a person believes about salvation is far more important than what that person believes about creation. This pastor has the important stuff figured out.

Church uncertainties, church seeking

Last Summer I moved to a village about an hour and a half away from where I have lived for the last 14 years, and so left a vibrant church community I had become a part of.

A year has passed, and I am still unsettled. Why?

This post includes reflections on my search for a church community.

Last Summer I moved to a village about an hour and a half away from where I have lived for the last 14 years, and so left a vibrant church community I had become a part of.

A year has passed, and I am still unsettled. Why?

This post includes reflections on my search for a church community.

My assumptions about churches

I’ll start by explaining where I’m coming from in regard to churches.

  1. The world-wide, past, present, and future followers of Jesus Christ are the church.
  2. To claim that any single Christian denomination has some exclusive mantle of righteousness is frighteningly short-sighted in regard to the power and reach of God’s Word in this world, and the power of Christ’s sacrifice for us.
  3. In terms of the traditional term of “church,” that being a local or regional congregation, I have never visited one that I think is perfect. This is the nature of man, and it is in spite of our foolishness that God’s work is done. I do not expect to find a “perfect” church. Paul’s letters to the early churches suggest to me that we have never had a church that is beyond reproach.
  4. The attitudes and attributes of a church are determined by the leadership of that church, the traditions and rules the church holds to, and the community and context in which it serves.

What I want in a church

  1. I want the leadership of the church to be humbled servants of the Word of God, willing to be corrected on long-held doctrinal stances out of reverence for the sovereignty of God. How can I trust them otherwise?
  2. I want the people in the church to serve earnestly for the common good, to be there for each other, to challenge, encourage, and enrich each other to grow in knowledge and spirit, and to hold each other accountable as needed.
  3. I want a community of believers that I am comfortable raising my daughters with.

The church I grew up in

As a child, before I believed, I attended a church called the First Apostolic Lutheran Church. The messages were always based on scripture and usually returned to the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. During services we often heard the pastor remind the congregation that our sins are forgiven in the name and blood of Jesus Christ. The congregation responded with those words back to the pastor. Let me be careful to point out that we were not actually forgiving any sins, we were reminding each other that our sins have been forgiven.

I am thankful for this upbringing, because it was during one of these church services that I, as a spiritually wayward 16 year-old, first truly believed that I am a forgiven child of God. The good news is very simple and very profound.

Fall of 2008: The pastor forgives my sins?

I attended a service at a church that shall remain anonymous. This particular service was a bit formal, with a pastor wearing a robe, deacons, an altar girl, and probably other trappings that I missed.

The message was about anger, and, ironically, I thought it was weak. During the service I could have sworn that the pastor said he forgave our sins. That’s not okay. I don’t expect to go back.

Winter 2008–2009: Baptist churches

I have attended a few Baptist churches recently. I have heard nothing that I take issue with, but I don’t think I am a Baptist. Perhaps I will end up in a Baptist church, by default.

Attending these Baptist churches has helped me realize that I do not like the idea of being labeled by any particular denomination’s stamp. My faith in God is fiercely independent of any local church I may attend and serve in. I look with skepticism on church-endorsed viewpoints, products, activities that do not root in God’s Word.

Social validation and manipulation

One church that I have been to a few times included an “altar call” in each service where the pastor exhorted people to self-identify, come forward, be prayed for, and so forth.

This can be a good opportunity for people to take that step of acknowledging Christ as savior. However, the line of prompts from the pulpit came off to me, a believer, as a sort of mass manipulation relying on the band-wagon effect—social validation to get people to make some sort of emotion-driven public statement.

Salvation is a spiritual act. Emotions are often tied to it, but by manipulating people, I feel like the pastor was using a dirty trick. This leads me directly to question whether the pastor was doing this to make himself feel good, or whether he was doing it to preach the gospel.

Spring 2009: A spinny church

Earlier this Spring I attended another church. It was fairly charismatic, with about an hour of worship music and dancing before the more sedate portion of the service ensued.

A tall woman in a long red robe waved her arms in wide spirals and spun around and around, her robe twirling with her. It was quite pretty. Another woman walked around the room waving a blue banner with symbols and writing that may have been Jewish over peoples heads. Others danced. Some laid down and cried. Others shouted, “JEEESUSSS.”

One song was about spinning for God and God spinning over us, and that God is happy when we spin over him.

That’s happy and all, but show me this in scripture? It is important that worship is based on truth.

I was reminded of whirling dervishes in the Middle East and of prayer banners in Tibet.

Let me say this: I believe that God’s work is being done in that church, and that there are sincere believers who are furthering God’s plan.

However, I won’t attend that church, because they have women pastors (I know, controversial—read Timothy 1 and Titus and then argue this in comments to this post if you like) and secondarily it seems like they are worshiping too much to their own glory and not enough to God’s. I could be totally wrong on this point.

Summer 2009: So where does this leave my quest?

I believe that as a Christian I am supposed to be engaged with a community of believers. As a father, I need to demonstrate that to my children.

I may continue to seek, or may end up settling in a tiny Baptist church nearby that I have attended quite a few times. It doesn’t have the richness of activities you get with a larger congregation, but more importantly the leadership and congregation seem to be humble, sincere followers of God. That is sufficient.

Faith, as from Hebrews and Tozer

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

I’ve been reading A. W. Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God” again, and have spent time considering a way he describes faith.

Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.

A.W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God

Fixing your gaze on God means that you presently see God. How can you not believe in what you presently see? Tozer makes the point that faith is unaware of itself, as it is focused on its object.

Instead of telling someone, or yourself, “just have faith,” which implies awareness of faith, it seems better to say, “in your soul, look to God.”